Sandor Katz. via Wild Fermentation.com
Fermentation is a historic method of food preservation that can be found in cultures all over the world, from Korean kimchi, or pickled cabbage, to fermented seal and other marine animals in the Arctic.
Sandor Katz is a fermentation revivalist who will be leading a workshop in Kodiak on Friday, and his passion for the all things fermented arose for the same reason it’s been so vital in the past. Necessity.
He says it started when he moved from New York City to Tennessee more than twenty years ago and started a garden.
“And the first year that I was gardening, I learned the simple fact that in a garden, all of the cabbage is ready around the same time, all the radishes are ready at around the same time. And so, when I was faced with a row of cabbages ready at the same time, I decided I’d better learn to make sauerkraut,” says Katz.
Katz says he discovered when leading a class that many people are afraid of fermentation because of the idea that all bacteria is dangerous.
“So I just got interested in demystifying fermentation for people,” says Katz. “Taking these ancient practices that people have been doing for literally thousands of years and without which human settlement in most temperate regions would have been utterly impossible.”
Katz says that applies to the northern tier of the Eurasian land-mass as well as many other regions of the world.
“In order to survive through a long winter with no fresh plant food, they would preserve barrels of sauerkraut, kimchi, many other variations on the theme and it was a survival practice,” he says. “People could take the abundance of vegetables that they have in a relatively short period of the year and preserve them so that they could be nourished by them for the rest of the year.”
He says to make sauerkraut we need to create a selective environment and exclude the air that would produce mold. To do that, Katz explains we use salt and then pound or squeeze the vegetable to pull out the juice.
“And then force them into a vessel in such a way that we force the vegetable below their juices and in that way, we protect them from air, and so the lactic acid bacteria will dominate rather than the mold and will develop this beautiful acidity which is what preserves the vegetables and gives them their wonderful flavor.”
Fermentation is also part of the yogurt-making process and Katz says that requires its own selective environment.
“We’re working with thermophilic bacteria that require temperatures above body temperature, so there we have to put it in some sort of an incubator,” he says. “I generally just use a preheated, insulated cooler, but that maintains the temperature around 110 degrees Fahrenheit and enables the bacteria that will turn the milk into yogurt to dominate.”
Katz says he’ll be demonstrating fermentation techniques at the Kodiak Public Library Friday starting at 5:30 p.m. He says after Kodiak, he’ll be leading workshops in Homer, Kenai, and Fairbanks.