In our semi-homestead years, my father fermented many pounds of his homegrown cabbages into sauerkraut we ate all winter. I helped. It was interesting and definitely tasty, but it was decades before I adopted fermentation for myself.
I was inspired to start by nostalgia, curiosity, and some recipes, but there were two things that kept me only tentatively practicing for a good while.
One was that in the sources I used, there was no general treatment of the lactofermentation process and how widely it could be applied, so if a flavor profile or texture missed the mark, I didn’t understand enough to explore my own tastes or improve on a result.
The other reason, one that it took me a real shift in perspective to release, was fear. The first recipes for lactofermentation of vegetables I used talked a whole bunch about the dangers of contamination and the importance of sanitation and were very much in the “set it and forget it” camp, apparently because opening a jar might mess it up. In short ferments of the type I was exploring, in which changes happen somewhat quickly, I’ve learned that keeping an eye on things as they progress is quite important.
It’s very hard to observe and learn what’s going on with a process if you feel that you can’t peek inside a jar until that process is pretty much complete. The practice of leaving things be and not checking on them actually led to many more failures for me. Once I learned from other sources how to become an active participant by proper preparation then checking, tasting, using eyes and nose to observe changes in the food, I became much more comfortable with using methods proven over thousands of years. Before the days of airlocks and glass weights, fancy jars and StarSan (a sanitizing agent used in the food industry), fermentation was a way to keep families fed over the winter. It was also, practiced properly, a straightforward way to keep that food safe to eat.
Now I know how to help my ferments thrive and they are a regular part of my daily life, as you know if you read Part 1 of this series…
Where did I learn? Sandor Katz helped me shift my practices. I recommend that you check out his blog and his books, especially Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation, for a great understanding of fermentation and how it has been used around the world.
Here are other fermenters I’ve learned from, both through their books and in online classes:
Pascal Baudar has books and classes on foraging wild food. I use his Wildcrafted Fermentation and The Wildcrafted Brewer often. I very much enjoyed a webinar I took from him on fermenting mushrooms, which I’d never tried before. It is a delicious addition to my toolkit.
I made my first vinegar (a different set of processes from lactofermentation) after reading Harry Rosenblum’s Vinegar Revival Cookbook, but I’ve learned even more from Kirsten Shockey and her book, Homebrewed Vinegar. Still more learning she’s opened up to me is through The Fermentation School, one of the communities from which I learn.
Through reading Katz’ books and others, I got curious about koji, which inspired me to read Rich Shih and Jeremy Umansky’s book, Koji Alchemy. That book led me to KojiCon, and my fermentation community grew by leaps and bounds. I’ve met one lovely human in person as a result of that event, and connected with many others. Most are on Instagram, and some of those make really great YouTube videos. You can explore the fermenters I follow there (I’m valerie_learning), or better yet, ask me for suggestions in your particular area of interest.
Another online community in which I’m fairly active is The Crock of Time on Discord. All levels of fermenters with a wide variety of interests gather there.
As I write this, more books and more communities to engage with have come my way. Ask me what’s new!
I’m so grateful that with these places to learn, I’ve been able to find folks who help me demystify processes, ingredients, cultural histories, and to learn more about food deserts and food insecurity, and the critical interaction between fermentation and robust, sustainable food systems to keep people and the planet thriving.
One additional place I learn is from supporting small batch makers of the foods I ferment or am interested in learning about. Tasting the result of care and deep experience with a product inspires me to expand my learning and practice in making my own fermented foods. This also helps me understand which processes I want to explore more deeply, and which I want to leave to others.
Where do you learn about the things that make you curious?