Sunday, September 15, 2013

On to Fermentation Mania?

When I started my 108 Breads project, I barely knew what fermentation was beyond knowing it had something to do with beer and wine. I had no idea that anyone could ferment foods or beverages at home and what a long, rich tradition - especially pre-refridgeration - we humans have with fermenting substances to ward off spoilage and increase nutritional value. I never gave a thought to what made bread before it appeared on a bakery shelf, that anyone actually took cabbage and did something to it to make sauerkraut, or that anything other than waiting happened to beer and wine before it is bottled (and this is especially damning given the number of wine tours and samples I have enjoyed).

From ignorance to knowledge and - no! - snobbery?

I had no idea when I started on the 108 breads journey - now at 33, but with a stack of at least 15 more on the to-do list - that anyone used anything other than a jar or a packet of yeast to cause a dough to rise. Now I am surprised when I see bread books that are filled with recipes calling for commercial yeast and not a mention of sourdough starters.

I am also happy to report that there have been some successfully kneaded breads, something else I had not a clue about, and that I am learning to juggle timing and starter amounts with vastly different household temperatures as the seasons pass one into the next. I am also confident - or stupid - enough to look at a recipe and say, well, this could use an autolyse or a resting period before kneading, though not so smart as to get it right every time. But what would we ever learn if we got it right each time without the harsh pauses for contemplation that mistakes give us?

As an aside in what was supposed to be musing about fermentation and in case anyone is wondering, a nice factoid from Six Thousand Years of Bread is that the word "bread" is a derivative of the word "brewed." My neighbor and I have planned a dinner party with home-fermented bread and beer. Should be fun and tasty, if we get to setting a date, which might be later rather than sooner.

So my curiosity about fermentation: I have not read any fermentation books. I am considering two.

Fermenting thoughts on fermentation texts

Cooked by Michael Pollan 

I am practically a groupie, but then again, I became a vegetarian when I read Diet for a Small Planet about 100 years ago. I was ripe to become a fan. I wish most of the book were about bread. I will still buy it. I am afraid I saw so many Pollan interviews when the book was released that there might not be anything more to learn. (One can now purchase a used copy of Diet for a Small Planet at an amazingly cheap price.) I also have to admit I was a slow food person before I knew about the movement, which basically means I was aware far too late to start the movement.

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz

Okay, I'm not sure if this book will be out of my comfort zone, but I am curious about the variety, history and culture (no pun intended) of fermentation. If it is anything like Six Thousand Years of Bread for fermentation, I will thoroughly enjoy the read. This author has also written Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods. I am afraid reading either of this author's books could transform me into a crazy person who never leaves the house because she is so busy making her own yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, bread, beer and apparently chocolate, that she never sees another human.

There's a whole culture out there (pun totally intended)

From a search for more fermentation books, I have discovered two things. 

(1) Evidently, Katz, the author of the how-to-ferment-every-food books, is the rock star of the fermentation world and a frequent fermentation speaker.

(2) There is a Portland, OR, fermentation festival in October, the fourth annual one, that apparently includes whatever anyone has ever imagined pickling. I am guessing there might be bread as well.    

Any recommendations for more books on fermentation generally and particularly its history are most welcome. And shucks, I forgot to buy yogurt at the farmers market today. Totally falling down on the locavore and fermentation fronts.

Articles on fermentation

Fermented Foods: The Benefits and Necessity of Fermenting as a Process
A former roommate, with whom I have reconnected on Facebook, suggested this article about the health benefits of natural fermentation and sourdough bread. It makes some pretty big claims against consumption of commercially-produced breads, not the least of which is that such a diet leads to malnutrition and every type of disease. While the tone of the article is a bit alarmist, I have thought for a long time that we need to be careful about what we eat and that it be as little processed as possible, or, like fermenting foods at home, as naturally processed as possible.

Fermented Foods: Top 8 Reasons to Eat Them
A quick read with a summary of information about the various health benefits of fermented foods - from better absorption of vitamins, to decreases in chronic conditions, such as asthma and yeast infections. There are links to information about how to ferment particular foods.
The Definitive Guide to Fermented Foods
This post by Mark's Daily Apple is an entertaining and rational exploration of the history and health benefits of fermented foods. Kudos are given to the Romans for sustaining themselves on sourdough bread as they engaged in conquering (and killing) other people. Evidently, Mark's Daily Apple is a promoter of eating a paleo-style diet. [To the right is a photograph from a forest that looked pretty paleo to me.]

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