The Old Is New Again: Wild Food & Fermentation
There was a time before grocery stores and drug stores were in every city and people used wild plants as medicine and preserved foods by any means necessary.
One of the most common ways of preserving food was by using fermentation, a metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases or alcohol. It is a relationship between yeast and bacteria that transforms food in a way that ancient people could only have perceived as magic.
You might not realize that about one third of the foods you eat are fermented or cultured. In fact, the trifecta of heavenly indulgences (chocolate, cheese, and alcohol) are all fermented foods. And yet, it’s a process that’s been lost in the modern home kitchen.
(Some of your other favorite ferments include coffee beans, yogurt, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, kimchee, pickles, kombucha, miso, kefir, hot sauce, and more.)
Michael Pollan’s docu-series “Cooked” (now on Netflix) does a great job of exploring the evolution of food culture and how the way we, as humans, eat differentiates us from other animals. The final episode in the series explores fermentation and makes it clear that:
In every culture there is cultured food.
Everywhere you go around the world you will find people fermenting food for all sorts of reasons. Aside from the fact that it can turn fruit into wine, and milk into cheese, it can also keep vegetables shelf stable for months while also boosting their nutritional profile.
Think about long winters when there is nothing to eat but meat and grain and how hard that can be on the digestive system. Isn’t it amazing that ferments were discovered? Not only does fermentation preserve vegetables –but it also boosts their nutritional content and loads them up with probiotics that can help you digest all the other heavy winter foods. Nature is a genius.
Many sociologists think that grains–or specifically–bread was the driving force behind civilization. Real bread has just three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. It’s the magic of fermentation that makes that dough rise and transforms it into the life sustaining food found in nearly every culture. If you give a person a bag of flour and some water they won’t last very long. If you give them access to fire so they can bake bread…they could live forever (unless their gluten free, but that’s a whole other blog).
But there’s also a theory that alcoholic fermented beverages were the real impetus for agriculture, aka the “beer before bread” theory. Once discovered, booze was a pretttty compelling reason to make people stay put and work together. Whichever came first, it’s fascinating to think that a microscopic mutation in our food is what created cultures all over the world.
Fermentation is one of those topics that has recently come to the mainstream with people being more interested in craft brewing, seasonal food, and probiotics.
There are many brilliant people writing about and teaching fermentation, but the leader of the pack is without a doubt the best selling author, Sandor Katz, who wrote Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to meet and work with Sandor and what I learned in his Wild Food & Fermentation Workshop truly transformed my kitchen, my gut, and my life.
He will be teaching that same intensive workshop again this year from June 27-July 1 and registration is now open!
Participants will spend their mornings in a castle immersed in hands-on fermentation projects, and afternoons will be outdoors foraging for and learning about wild edibles and medicinals. This workshop is tailor made for wild fermentos, creative chefs, health enthusiasts, and aspiring naturalists.
For more information about Ashevillage’s Wild Food & Fermentation Workshop click HERE.
You can enter the code “WFF2016″ at check out to SAVE $50 OFF tuition.