Not too long ago I mentioned my sudden desire to educate myself in the increasingly chic world of at-home, DIY food and drink fermentations. After a couple of inquiries from readers, and incredulous, “You mean to say you DON’T fement?!” comments from fellow crunchy moms in the various local and online health and natural parenting groups I frequent, I finally decided to dive into this strange, perplexing and (to me), intimidating world of fermentation.
I sent out a handful of requests to a couple of well-known food experts and healthy living gurus asking for advice, resources and material to cover for you, my lovely readers. And lucky us, Jeff Cox – one of the country’s leading experts and authors on organic food and the new culinary health movement – sent me his book, The Essential Book of Fermentation to read and review. Cox is the author of twenty books, has hosted two TV series, and was managing editor of Organic Gardening magazine for more than a decade.
I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity of reading and reviewing some of his work to pass on to ya’ll, and to finally get around to addressing the topic of fermentation. (I’m always the last one on the bandwagon, I know, I know!) ^_^
The Essential Book of Fermentation
From the book description on Amazon.com:
In his extensive career as a bestselling cookbook author and TV garden-show host, Jeff Cox has always been keenly aware of the microbiology that helps his garden flourish. He has long known that microbes keep our bodies healthy as they ferment food, releasing their nutritional power and creating essential vitamins and enzymes. In The Essential Book of Fermentation, Cox shares a bounty of recipes for nourishing the internal “garden.”
Simplifying the art and science of fermentation, Cox offers a primer on the body’s microbial ecosystem, complemented by scrumptious recipes, and easy-to-follow pickling and canning techniques. Basics such as bread and yogurt help readers progress to wine, cheese, and a host of international delicacies, including kimchi and chow chow. Inspiring and innovative, The Essential Book of Fermentation serves up great taste along with great health on every page.
Right off the bat I was enticed by this book, by the front cover teasers: This book is all about great taste and good health with probiotic foods. It includes recipes for making pickles, cheese, bread, wine, and all kinds of different fermented superfoods.
You see, my husband and I are wine lovers. And we have discussed a couple of times now the possibility of getting serious in a side hobby of whipping up some garage wines. It’s something that is usually brought up while swirling a bottle of Grocery Outlet overstock wine in our Ikea wine glasses and listening to Frank Sinatra from our iPod phonograph horn. (Do we know how to pamper ourselves or what?)
So holding this tome of fermenting wisdom and wine-making secrets, I was all ready to become a veritable fermenting queen of awesomeness.
My Thoughts On This Book
Get a pen and notepad ready, because this book is EXTREMELY information heavy. I am not kidding when I say that almost every single page in this book I have scribbled notes on, left “blog about this later” bookmarks and dog-eared for “come back to this once you are settled into the new house”.
Not only is this book chock full of inspiration and information, pulling on multiple realms of science, but Cox has a way of illustrating complex issues in a very easy to understand format. He uses mind blowing and eye opening analogies of natural ecosystems and applies them to the inner workings of our bodies – and more specifically, our guts – to highlight how fermentation is an essential and powerful aspect of whole body health.
A couple of my favorite examples include Cox’s illustration of how we absorb nutrients:
“Then I had an epiphany – one of those visions that throws such a strong light on a subject that it changes the way you look at the world forever. I thought of a plant root and how at the small tips of the root, microscopic root hairs extend out into the soil to absorb the nutrients that microorganisms produce there. And then I thought of a human intestine and how it’s lines with microscopic villi – tiny projections much like root hairs – that point inward into the intestine and absorb nutrients from the decomposing elements of last night’s dinner.”
And his illustration of how the food we consume works in the same way that compost works for plants:
“The gut is an internalized composting facility, feeding you exactly what nature intends for your health, when you need it, and in the forms that will do you the most good. Like any healthy ecosystem, the presence of a diverse mix of bacteria and yeasts is stable and disease-resistant, and in fact goes further in its protective function by bolstering your immune system.”
The one simple, yet extremely profound piece of information I’ve gleaned from the countless nuggets of knowledge in this book, is why antibiotics should only be used in extreme cases. Cox describes these miracle medicines as “bacterial atomic bombs” that kill of good and bad bacteria alike. But, just as in nature, when you bomb a field with chemicals, whenever growth returns to the soil, it’s always weeds that come back first. Likewise, in your stomach, it’s always bad bacteria that thrive initially.
As someone prone to major infections due to my severe allergies, this information is critical for me. It gives me incentive to stay on top of my health, stay informed on how best to address my health issues from a holistic perspective and perhaps most importantly, gives me a game plan of consuming fermented, probiotic rich foods when / if I ever find myself using a last resort “bacterial bomb” for an infection.
While I am excited to try my hand at making old fashioned artisan breads and garage wines, I must say that I am most impressed with the thorough history, science and reasoning behind organic gardening, non-GMO foods and pastured dairy product. I am so new to all of this – my natural living lifestyle is literally only as old as my daughter – and I wish I had read this book YEARS ago.
I can now say that I finally understand why and how fermentation works, and I more than ready to start venturing out into my own fermented creations. This summer, once the Navy moves us and I’m all settled into my new home, watch for more fermenting blog posts!