This week's reading started off a little slowly for me, but right around the midsection—aka the belly—of the bit on beneficial microbes and the gut, I started making notes and asterisks all over the place. I've read some of the news lately on gut health, but for me, this chapter sealed the deal. I mean, why not eat more fermented food if there's even a chance it can help allergies, heart disease, anxiety ... and the list goes on and on?
A related note that resonated with me was Pollan's assertion that we're not necessarily hardwired to like this kind of stuff. Pickles, in general, as well as sauerkraut and kimchi, are an acquired taste for me—and, as an adult, I've always felt sort of guilty about that: Is there something wrong with me because I didn't like pickles from the get go?
So I found it a little reassuring to think of fermented foods as cultural constructions—and not altogether natural ones. On page 309, Pollan writes: "Unlike sweetness or umami, these [fermented foods] are not the kinds of simple flavors humans are hardwired to like. To the contrary, these are 'acquired tastes,' by which we meant hat to enjoy them we often must overcome a hardwired aversion, something it usually takes the force of culture, and probably repeated exposure as a child, to achieve."
Hey, if fermented veggies are even a quarter as healthy as scientists are starting to think they are, I'm happy to keep working on overcoming any lingering aversions. Bring on the rotten food!
» For next week: Are folks OK with finishing the book?
I loved this part of the book so much and was eager to get to it when I began the book. I made two different fermented non-alcoholic drinks this summer, Kombucha and Ginger Bug. Both are fantastic and leave me with a nice knowledge that I'm adding to my body's repertoire of friendly micro-critters. And both empowered me to realize just how easy and satisfying it is to ferment simple things. Now I'm excited to try the recipe for Kraut-Chi in the back of the book.
This chapter's one disappointment for me was that after the whole discussion of cheese-making he didn't actually attempt it himself. I've tried to make cheese on a number of occasions and my only real successes are with ricotta, which is a fresh cheese made from pasteurized milk. Still, I was glad to see how much effort he put into the other fermented foods.
I also loved that he did the brewing with his son. I would have loved to have done that back in the day with my dad, and it would have given us a valuable opportunity to talk about drinking and moderation as well as the strange moral ambiguities of underage drinking in the US. Alas, I am now 30 so I'll have to save that conversation for 10-15 years from now when my own children start making those sorts of decisions.
Julie, I love your story of the veggie burger. I've had mixed results making my own but did enjoy a recipe I did recently for a black bean mushroom burger. On the other hand, a friend of mine who makes many things at home herself told me the other day "Jon, you don't have to make everything from scratch." A good reminder that I sometimes get carried away on my path to independence.
All in all this has been my favorite part of the book. I may even have a chance to do a bit of Sandor Katz-ing myself later this month at a local symposium on homestead skills!
I really enjoyed this part of the book although I think I liked his New York Times Magazine
article better. It continued to solidify for me that we need to injest more bacteria and yeast! I really liked the section where Sister Noella quieted the health inspector by inoculating a batch of her cheese (made with the tainted wooden tools!) and a batch of cheese in sterile equipment with a nasty strain of bacteria (I think e. coli). There is so much about bacteria and yeast and the balance we need to find with them that we don't know, it almost makes me want to go back to school! I agree with you too Jennifer, although I do like most kimchi, other fermented foods are not by go-to snack of choice... I think the cultural discussion is enough for me to be willing to continue to increase my exposure to them though!
I was reminded of an earlier part of this book this week as well. I was on a business trip (not common for me) in a very high stress environment where we were in meetings for 14+ hours a day and food was just brought in to us. Since everything was a "working" breakfast, lunch or dinner (yuck) I found I didn't eat like I normally do. It's a lot easier to nibble a cookie or wolf down a cold cut sandwich (double yuck) than politely cut and chew a salad while running a powerpoint presentation in heated discussion. Now I feel like crap and MP's statement that human's 'are great compartmentalizers, never more so than when they are hungry' is running through my sugar-laden head...looking forward to getting back to normal!
Tara, I loved that part with the health inspector too! Pretty awesome how in many cases the wisdom of past generations knows what's best even without having had science to back everything up. Science is great too, but it seems like so much of the past 100 years was a constant back-and-forth between science making one thing better just to ruin another. Hopefully this next century will see a better balancing of the knowledge of all our predecessors with new discoveries and breakthroughs.
My favorite part of this section was meeting Sister Noella--I liked learning about her outlook on life and how she'd continued her education from cheese making to a doctorate in microbiology. And yes, clever woman for her able demonstration for the health inspector.
However, I admit I got pretty grossed out on MP's very vivid descriptions of the stages of molds taking over the cheese. To the point that I'm not really all that interested in a stinky cheese. Funny--I wanted bread, and Bolognese, and BBQ after reading about them . . . not this time. I made mozzarella for the first time last month, and I'll stick with fresh cheeses, thanksverymuch.
I've already started my pickles for the season, and look forward to putting up more as I get cukes in the farm share, but I'm not sure if I will try a kimchi. I had such yummy ones at the Asian markets when I lived in Virginia.
I'm good with finishing up the book for next week. Too bad we can't set up a pot luck where we all bring something from the book!
Julie, what a cool a ha! moment. Jon's black bean mushroom burger sounds awesome; here's another version that's friendly to lots of kinds of veggies. (And Jon, your kids are lucky to have such a thoughtful, engaged dad!) Tara, I hear you: One illicit snack can feel like a treat, but a whole day of eating fake food just makes me pine for an actual vegetable. And Kirsten, I had the same thought: How cool would be if we could throw a potluck? Maybe the next best thing is sharing photos and recipes—something Kirsten is awesome at, BTW—here on HOMEGROWN of what we make and eat and try.
And just a quick note to thank you guys for being part of this book club. I'm sorry to see it end, but I can't wait to see what you cook next! If everybody's game, let's plan on wrapping up this week.
That sounds good to finish up next week. And I like the idea of sharing a photo of something we've made that was motivated or inspired by the book (or just related to it).