Foodies Celebrate Fermentation

Funny how food brings us together, isn't it?  I never would have imagined an athletically built, moustached man with a mohawk speaking to a room full of foodies as someone who could help me connect with my belated grandmother. Yet that's exactly what Sandor Ellix Katz did when he spoke to a crowded room on a recent Sunday afternoon. He was preparing fresh cabbage and carrots into what would eventually become gourmet sauerkraut.
Author Sandor Ellix Katz with new book,
The Art of Fermentation
Katz is renowned as a fermentation experimentalist and author of comprehensive books on the subject.  Volunteers grated cabbage and carrots so Katz could prepare more than a gallon of the whole food mixture for the ancient process of fermenting into kraut.  The entire time I was taking notes about the history and benefits of fermented foods, I kept picturing my grandmother in the kitchen, adeptly making fresh slaw and sauerkraut.  When I tasted the sample of radish kraut that Katz had brought along, I was fascinated by its bite and impressed by how easy it is to prepare and preserve our own foods.

Author event hosted by
Three Rivers Market at Ijams
"Bacteria are critical for our well-being," exclaimed this food enthusiast who discussed how the changing composition of foods creates things like lactic acids in yogurt to aid our digestion of dairy.  He went on to shared an entertaining narrative about fermentation.  Katz noted that people's fermentation of foods actually predates written history, so there is some air of mystery about it.  Much had to do with mere survival as people needed to keep foods safely until the next growing season.  He noted that safety, such as avoiding exposing foods to conditions that cause dangerous molding, is important.  Yet, lessons about safe processing of food were typically handed down through the generations. 
Volunteer mother and daughter team, Trudy and Joan Monaco,
prepare cabbage and carrots for kraut-making demonstration

Katz told a touching story about a family who had brought kefir from the Old World to the New and treasured it as much as any other heirloom. Savoring the word play, Katz said, "it turns out that these cultured foods are really important to our culture."  Author and audience reminisced together about traditional varieties of kraut from around the world that include everything from peaches to mashed potatoes.  Katz reminded us that ancient people started making convenient foods like cheese by necessity, "think of cheddar cheese as preserved milk, because that's what it is."  And he jokingly referred to our refrigerators as "fermentation slowing devices."

You can connect with Katz at his website Wild Fermentation, where his latest book The Art of Fermentation is available.

Knoxville's member-owned food co-op Three Rivers Market hosted Katz for his popular talk, as part of its July series called Fermentation Fervor.  You can attend a  free presentation about yogurt making at the market this weekend.