It began with a pot of sauerkraut you made in an old crockpot. What was so exciting about that first taste of fermentation?
I’ve always loved sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables. I love the sour flavour, the fresh, crisp texture, and the way eating it makes my salivary glands go crazy secreting saliva. But I also love the practical benefit of taking fleeting gluts of fresh vegetables and turning them into a stable form that you can enjoy for months.
You’ve been called the champion of the fermentation revival. Is it here to stay?
Actually, if you look at fermented foods as a whole, including bread, cheese, cured meats, wine, beer, vinegar, coffee and chocolate, then I don’t think fermentation has ever waned in popularity. But after a few generations of a full embrace of convenience foods, I think that the reclaiming of food (including fermentation) is an ongoing project that will continue.
Have we lost the art of making our own foods from scratch?
The full-throttle embrace of convenience has meant that many people never learned how to make anything from scratch. But many people do, and many more are learning. The cultural legacy we have inherited – not only the fermentation arts, but agriculture, seeds, and the processes of food preparation – must be valued.
What’s one food item everyone can make, no matter how busy they are?
I always recommend fermented vegetables as the ideal way to begin. It’s easy, safe, you don’t need special starter cultures or equipment, it’s so delicious and supportive of good health. You spend 15 minutes chopping veggies, salting them, squeezing them, and stuffing them into a jar, and you can enjoy them for weeks.
Do you think it’s achievable for everyone?
I don’t think everyone is interested in making their own, and increasingly excellent live-culture ferments are available to purchase. But for anyone with an interest, it’s possible. Fermenting vegetables is easy, even in an apartment or a dorm room.
Should fermentation novices worry about making themselves sick with harmful bacteria when mixing up a batch of pickles?
No. By understanding the conditions needed, you can make a safe fermentation environment. None of it is rocket science; these are processes that people have been doing for hundreds or thousands of years.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve fermented?
There’s no food that can’t be fermented, but the ones that develop the strongest flavours and smells are various fermenting fish.
Have you had any fermentation failures?
Many times; I have had maggots crawling out of ferments that I’d failed to protect from flies, and bright-coloured moulds, which can be extremely dangerous. But every failed project has been a learning experience.
What's next for Sandorkraut?
I'll continue to teach, and look forward to things slowing down enough to write another book one of these years.
Interview by Lara Picone
As seen in Feast magazine, October 2014, Issue 36. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.