“In our germ-phobic society, in which sterilization is considered healthy,” Sandor Katz reminds us, “microbes can be our friends.” A long-term AIDS survivor, he believes that the friendly bacteria he ingests in fermented or “live-culture” foods deserves a great deal of the credit for his continued health.
Katz’s book is absolutely packed with information on and recipes for yogurt, cheese, krauts, kimchi, sourdough breads, miso, tempeh, beers, and wines, as well as a few lesser known forms of fermentation that could definitely be considered ‘wild.’ Would you like some mead such as Beowulf enjoyed in Hrothgar’s Hall and Dumbledore in Hogsmeade? Mix some honey with water and watch it start to bubble—it’s magic! Microscopic yeasts and bacteria are floating aboard particles of dust in the atmosphere, and when they find a suitable medium, they start to grow. As Katz says, “It is not possible to eradicate culture! Wild fermentation is everywhere.”
My favorite recipe in Wild Fermentation is the relatively mundane but delicious sauerkraut. Its light, tangy flavor is the perfect accompaniment to heavier dishes, and it is easy to make with the help of our microbe friends. All you need is chopped cabbage and salt, though I also like to inoculate mine with a little starter bacteria by adding a few tablespoons of whey, the yellowish liquid that separates from natural “live” yogurt. Mix it all together in a large ceramic bowl, pack it down under a plate that just fits inside the bowl, and place a gallon jar full of water on the plate to weigh it down. Leave it on your kitchen counter covered with a towel. A few days later you have sauerkraut.
Why should you go to the trouble to make your own sauerkraut or sourdough bread? Our health depends not only on eating nutritious food, but on being able to absorb those nutrients properly. Healthy bacteria are essential for this process, and fermented foods are the best way to get them. Besides, it’s fun and delicious!