We began experimenting with fermentation in a variety of forms a couple of years ago. Making pickles, beer, breads, cheeses, and kombucha have become relished (winkwink) hobbies – It’s cheaper than buying the store bought stuff and we always feel victorious when we learn to do something that once seemed mysterious. Through trial and very occasionally, error — we have learned to trust our instincts and embrace a less sterilized outlook on creating in the kitchen. Instead of pasteurizing, boiling and canning all of our garden surplus, we have begun to allow some probiotics, live cultures and enzymes to form via a natural or enhanced (with the addition of live cheese cultures, yeast, etc.) fermentation processes and the results have been really fascinating.
As Sandor Katz, the Author of bestselling books on fermentation (Wild Fermentation, The Art of Fermentation) puts it, “Fermentation is as much art as it is science.” Using a more instinctual approach to cooking has always worked well for me. Most of us have a natural knowledge of how something is supposed to taste, instincts and cravings for the foods that will help or heal us. The more flavors and cultures (world-food wise and pro-bacteria wise) I open myself up to, the better I hone my culinary artistry. Many a tastebud has been brainwashed (tonguewashed?) into thinking that the flavors of fizzy, tart, earthy or Alive means poison. I grew up with a lot of processed foods, some of which I still enjoy occasionally. I continued to eat these things because they were the only foods that seemed to not upset my stomach. They were safe and sterile and never rotten. After suffering for years from digestive trouble and attempting (at different times) to be meat-free, gluten-free, alcohol-free, fun-free — what worked for me, personally, was not the exclusion of foods, but the inclusion of more types of food and probiotics. This is where instincts come in again: with education and common sense I have turned my kitchen and home brewery into a hotel for bacteria — pro-bacteria, that is. I have let go of my arsenal of chemical cleaners and (where appropriate) stopped trying to sterilize my food.
Every batch of fermentation is just a little different, because it is alive. Always growing and changing. While I think there is something to be said for a consistent product, I am very intrigued by the complexities and subtle nuances that fermentation brings. Sampling my pickled and fermented creations is like wine tasting.