Austin’s First-Ever Fermentation Festival Attracts Over 3,000 — All Hungry for Tips and Recipes
Judging by the standing room — and sitting-on-the-floor — only turnout for the first ever Fermentation Festival in Austin, Texas, in November 2014, fermentation is the next big superstar in the local, organic, healthy food world.
And this is — as Martha Stewart would say — “a good thing”!
Eating fermented foods is one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies, according to many experts, including one of the leaders in the fermentation movement — Sandor Katz, who was the main speaker at the festival.
Along with Katz’s presentation, the event featured 12 other speakers, including local cooks and chefs. They gave talks on cider, kefir, kombucha, mead, kimchi, sourdough bread, and more.
The event was sponsored by the Texas Farmers Market and Whole Foods, and was hosted by the Le Cordon Blue College of Culinary Arts.
From the Stone Age to Our Modern World
Although fermentation is now considered trendy, it’s actually one of the oldest forms of “cooking” food.
“It’s not a fad,” said Katz, “it’s a revival, a resurgence of a long-standing food tradition. “There has not been a traditional culture that didn’t incorporate fermentation.”
Examples include fermented herring in Sweden, fish sauce in China, injera flat bread in Ethiopia, and yogurt in Switzerland.
But this tradition was lost for several generations in the Western world, noted Katz. From the 1950s to 2000:
People were thrilled with the convenience of processed food and not having to cook as much. But now people realize the ramifications of processed foods and want to return to traditional ways of food preparation.”
According to an article in the Austin Chronicle on the Fermentation Festival:
As a preservation method, fermentation has been traced back as far as the Stone Age. Its process of breaking down nutrients into more easily digestible forms, while creating new nutrients in the process, is why many people turn to fermented foods for their purported health benefits.”
Fermented foods offer many benefits, says Katz, including preservation, creating new nutrients, predigestion, detox, and flavor. “It’s those compelling flavors that keep us coming back for more.”
In an article in the Austin American-Statesman, food editor Addie Broyles wrote:
By encouraging microorganisms like yeast and bacteria to multiply on fruits, vegetables, beans, dairy, grain, and even meat, we can transform raw ingredients into some of the planet’s most delicious foodstuffs.”
Katz says that his interest in fermentation began when he started gardening at his home in rural Tennessee.
When it came time to harvest, I had all this cabbage and realized that I had to do something with it or it would go bad. I realized I needed to learn how to ferment. It was a magical process that transformed the raw cabbage into a food that lasted the whole winter. I was hooked.”
Katz is self-taught and has studied widely, from visiting foreign countries to talking to scientists at a lab at Harvard. During his visit to Austin for the trip, he noticed that Austin is home to a lot of wild prickly pear. “They use that to make a delicious fermented beverage in Mexico!”
His main advice to the packed room
If you are trying to eat to improve your body’s biodiversity, then eat diversely. Eat as wide a variety of fermented foods as you can to get an optimum range of microorganisms.”
Soaking Up the Art and Science of Fermentation
The festival attendees were among some of the most interested people I’ve ever seen. They were hungry for knowledge on the art and science of fermentation imparted by the lecturers. The attendees I spoke to said they hoped the festival becomes an annual event.
I overheard that the organizers were amazed and a bit overwhelmed by the response. They stated in an article in Edible Austin that they purposely made the event free in order to make the information accessible to the largest number of people. Many of us assumed they would charge in the future to contain the crowd (and they did — along with finding a larger venue). According to Carla Jenkins, marketing manager of the Texas Farmers Market:
Science and experience tells us that it’s possible to cultivate a healthier community of bacteria in our bodies by modifying our diets to include fermented foods that contain probiotics and beneficial bacteria. We figured it’s never too late to eat healthier, and we want our community to learn what our ancestors experienced with fermented food.”
After the event, I contacted Katz and asked if I could share a recipe from one of his books. I chose his pickle recipe from Wild Fermentation. Pickles are the one thing I’ve tried to ferment so far — and I failed. They were too mushy. So, I’ll try again with this recipe.
Fermented Pickle from Wild Fermentation
Ingredients for one gallon:
4 pounds small pickling cucumbers – no longer than 4 inches (ideally organic)
3 TBSP non-iodized (ideally sea salt)
Fresh dill (handful)
Garlic gloves (as many as you like)
Fresh grape leaves (a handful — they help pickles stay crunchy)
Mustard seeds (a handful)
Black peppercorns (a handful)
1 gallon pure water
Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket – cylindrical shape
Plate that fits inside the crock or bucket
- Rinse cucumbers, taking care not to bruise them. Remove any blossoms and spikes.
- Boil water. About six cups in which to dissolve salt to create a brine solution. Let it cool.
- Thoroughly clean the crock. Then layer the ingredients. Place dill on the bottom, a couple of heads of garlic cloves, a generous pinch of mustard seeds and black peppercorns, and a few grape leaves.
- Arrange the cucumbers in the crock with the larger ones on the bottom (where they’ll ferment longer).
- Pour the brine over the cucumbers. Place a clean plate over them and weight it down with a jug filled with water. (Note: Brine water needs to cover cucumbers. If not, add more brine water (2 cups water plus 1 tbsp. salt).
- Cover crock with a cloth (to keep out bugs and dust). Store in a cool place.
- Check daily and skim off any scum that forms. Taste the pickles after a few days.
- Begin eating when sour. They will continue to ferment over next few days.
- When they are fully done (one to three weeks), move them to the fridge to slow down the fermentation process.