A new book will be on many foodies’ Christmas lists this season
Review by Jodi DeLong
Walk through any farmers market or local food emporium in Atlantic Canada, and you’ll see a variety of staples that most of us might not have even recognized a dozen years ago—Kimchi, Torshee, Kombucha. These nestle side by side with breads, sauerkraut, soft and hard cheeses, various cured meats, plus locally made ciders and beers. The unifying characteristics are that they are all fermented foods; they are all wildly popular; all delicious and, in many cases, easy to make at home, too.
Author Philip Moscovitch has just completed an exhaustive, comprehensive and fascinating study of fermented foods with this new book, just out in time for the holidays. Subtitled “What I learned from Nova Scotia’s masters of fermented foods—craft beer, cider, cheese, sauerkraut and more” it’s not just a look at fermented foods—it encourages readers to try making many of them for ourselves. (A Mason jar full of cabbage and salt is working away on my counter even now.) Although the book’s subtitle refers to Nova Scotia, the same renaissance and exploration of fermented foods is going on all across our region, as people turn to time-honoured traditions as well as exploring new-to-us flavours.
As Moscovitch notes, historically, people turned to fermentation of foods for one reason—to prolong their usefulness, avoiding waste as much as possible. Foods that might normally only be available fresh for a couple of weeks (think cucumbers) before they are gone for another year can thus be enjoyed as pickles. And while he notes that many vegetables and some fruits will store well for weeks, or even months, in many cases they can be preserved—and, he suggests, even improved—through fermentation.
Making your own fermented foods at home is relatively easy and very safe, with one significant exception—curing meats. Here, there is no margin for error, no room to alter things like the concentration of salt in a brine. This particular side of fermentation requires some precision and specific equipment. It’s fascinating reading, and equally fascinating that Moscovitch addresses the whole concern (by some people) regarding nitrates and nitrites, which are used to kill botulism bacteria and significantly inhibit other bad bacteria. For those of you who think you’re eating “nitrite-free” cured meats, guess again.
A significant part of Adventures in Bubbles and Brine is given over to the “adult” ferments: beer, cider, and wine. There is plenty of fascinating reading here, both in terms of the history of these beverages, and about the current growth in each industry. Moscovitch’s research has been fastidious, and he’s interviewed a significant number of local players, but along with the professional, branded brews, he’s talked to people like Brian Braganza, who has a yearly cider festival where the public gathers on his property to help him make juice for cider. And if you’re keen to try your hand at making your own cider or “country wine” there are recipes included in the book. There’s also a recipe for making kombucha, a non-alcoholic, fermented tea drink, for those who are fans of that particular beverage.
For those of us who love homemade or “artisan” bread, the chapter on breads will likely be a favourite. Surely there isn’t a more commonly consumed product of all those fermented wonders found in the book, from the wonderful luskinigan or four-cent bread of the Mi’kmaq to cornmeal molasses anadama bread to sourdoughs in all shapes and sizes. There’s a recipe for making and keeping your own sourdough starter as well as a “Not Very Instagrammable Bread” recipe that Moscovitch uses.
What goes well with wine, bread and pickles? Cheese, of course, and Atlantic Canada has some very fine cheese producers, from Willem van den Hoek of Economy, (aka That Dutchman), to the team at Blue Harbour cheeses in Halifax. Once again, the explanations about cheesemaking and a dash of history makes for fascinating reading.
If, by mid-book, you’ve decided to try your hand at an assortment of ferment recipes, the chapter on what you’ll need for supplies will be crucial. But don’t skip to the back of the book—read and enjoy the entire volume. Especially if you’re hungry at the time.