Sandor Katz: Wild (About) Fermentation

Author and fermentation expert Sandor Katz. Photo by Sean Minteh.

Fermentation seems to be everywhere these days, but author and fermentation expert Sandor Katz has been bubbling along with natural fermentation methods for years.

In fact, he’s just released his latest book, “The Art of Fermentation”, which examines in detail the fermentation practices of cultures around the world–and the processes by which readers can use those practices to ferment and preserve countless foods themselves.

Since the early 1990s, Katz has been a leader in the clean food and fermentation movement. He’s written three other books, including 2003’s “Wild Fermentation.” He travels extensively, conducting hands-on fermenting workshops. And if he weren’t busy enough, he’s renovating an 1840s cabin near his Tennessee home, with the goal of converting it to a school where he can share his expertise. “The project is going great! I just came back from a trip through Colorado, and the friends that are helping me with it have the roof on now. We reset the foundations earlier in the summer. It needs several windows and wiring to be functional.” He expects to have the inaugural sessions in the cabin in 2014.

At his rural home in Tennesse, Katz has an extensive garden. He’d given up expecting much after the summer’s drought, but after some recent rains, things are looking up. “I have some beautiful tomatoes, they’re just flourishing. And there’s okra, sweet potoatoes…I planted some fall roots recently, radishes, turnip, carrots, and they’re doing well. I have peanuts that look healthy, and my basil is doing amazingly well.” In his voice, you can hear the pleasure he takes in his garden and his work.

Katz has been a fan of Lehman’s for over 15 years. When he first moved to Tennessee, he was part of a community that did not have electricity. Although they weren’t completely off the grid, it was definitely a homesteading lifestyle. “I knew about Lehman’s then, of course. Everyone did.”

“The Art of Fermentation” is available at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s brick and mortar store in Kidron, Ohio.

Two years ago, he moved to current home, wrote “The Art of Fermentation“, and started the cabin renovation. But he didn’t forget about Lehman’s, especially when he found himself with an unusual problem. “I have an oak barrel that I use for fermenting, and it originally came from the Jack Daniel’s distillery. So it laid horizontally, and had the bunghole in it.”He wanted to ferment in it, and needed to stand it on end. “And at Lehman’s I found exactly what I needed: a large wooden bung cork that seals tightly. It’s very effective.” He’s picked up other things too, but that simple bung cork is important.

He details exactly how he uses the 55-gallon oak barrel: “I have a friend that plants daikon radish as a cover crop. In early November, I go out with some friends, and fill the bed of a pickup truck with the daikon. It takes about 450 pounds of daikon to fill the oak barrel.” Keeping the barrel watertight is important–if the daikon aren’t completely submerged in the brine, they won’t ferment evenly, and will eventually spoil. The bung cork keeps the brine in barrel where it belongs, so the wild bacteria and yeasts can ferment the radishes, which are a welcome tangy treat.

He also ferments in crocks. “I just have dozens and dozens of them. They’re from everywhere. When I first started out, I used an American group that were made in Ohio, but now I have them in all different sizes and types. I think potters have become interested in fermenation, or realized that there is an interest in it around them. I have a nice array of differently shaped fermentation vessels now.” He relates that he found a surprise when he got home from his recent Colorado trip. “There was an enormous box on the porch, and when I opened it, there was a beautiful handmade crock inside, mummified in bubble wrap and packing peanuts.” He seems somewhat bemused that the crocks just turn up, gifts from providence.

Northeast Ohio residents may get to see him in person this spring, which has caused no end of excitement here at Lehman’s. There’s a strong possibility he’ll be speaking and running a workshop in Cleveland and at the Oberlin College campus. He’s traveling frequently these days, doing fermentation workshops and touring for “The Art of Fermentation.” If you’d like to know if Katz is teaching or speaking in your neck of the woods, click here for a peek at his jam-packed schedule.

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