The publisher's description of The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World is about as boastful in the book world as it gets: “The Art of Fermentation is the most comprehensive guide to do-it-yourself home fermentation ever published.”
Here, it is spot-on.
This 500-page, prose-heavy manual is more an encyclopedia than an actual cookbook, meaning you won't find pretty photographs of homemade yogurt hanging out with beautiful cherry jams inside.
What you will find is a forward by Michael Pollan. And the only resource guide you will ever need for all of your soy sauce, sorghum beer, tempeh and hamanatto (whole fermented soybean “nuggets”) weekend fermenting dreams. A Master Food Preservers-worthy guide to fermenting everything edible — and some things that are not.
The author, Sandor Ellix Katz, calls himself a “self-taught fermentation experimentalist.” Or at least that's how his publisher describes him on the book jacket flap. It doesn't matter to us whether he is a self-taught kimchi expert or he enrolled in higher fermentation learning courses. Either way, Katz, who is also the author of Wild Fermentation, is the guy we will now be turning to for all of our “Growing Mold Cultures” (Chapter 10; tempeh and the like) and “Fermenting Sugars into Alcohol: Meads, Wines, and Ciders” (Chapter 4) needs.
Interested in the rather niche field of “Fermenting Sour Tonic Beverages?” There is a chapter detailing how to make traditional beverages such as kefir, smreka, kvass, mauby, shrubs and the like here, too. Of course there is.
The prose recipes are woven between historic and modern day descriptions of fermented food and drinks. Things like masato, a traditional African beer in which chewing and spitting out the cassava helps initiate fermentation (photo above). There is even a chapter aptly dubbed “Non-Food Applications of Fermentation.” It is dedicated to composting, natural clothing dyes, even “fermentation art” from artists such as Suzanne Lee who uses “fermentation itself as a mode of expression,” says Katz.
More accessible tips are here, too. You'll find tomes — everything here is fantastically verbose — on “simple clabbering” and a troubleshooting section on everyday yogurt dilemmas (Too runny? Too thick?). The few detailed recipes that are here remind you to look at every fermented recipe very loosely, be it from your most trusted neighbor or favorite food magazine. This stuff is alive, after all, and it fits in no specific mold. Katz, we imagine, included.
On that note, it seems fitting that we leave you with a final note from Katz from the final paragraph of his Epilogue.
There are but few strands of a densely interwoven web of relationships that can sustain and enrich us. Fermentation is one way in which we may consciously cultivate this web. This is the daily practice of cultural revival. By engaging life forces, we rediscover and reconnect with our context.
Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Find more from the author @eathistory + eathistory.com.