I’ve been making Chinese pickled cabbage and ginger since 2001. I know this because I checked the publication date on my tattered copy of Belinda Jeffrey’s 100 Favorite Recipes; it’s stained, loose pages, held together with a ribbon, are now propped up in a corner alongside other saggy spined favorites and those just barely hanging onto their hardcovers.
Enthusiastic use that ages cookbooks, not time, but for all the on-trend tomes that are trotted out each year, what lies ahead for the kale smoothie, the paleo protein ball, and carb-less carbonara? Will there be ribbons tenderly tied around these pages? And why is it that the unglamorous, often picture-less classics I come back to again and again would hardly get so much as a sniff from a publisher today, let alone survive on social media. Is it because we need to eat by a set of rules? Is it all about our ever increasing need for special needs? Perhaps it’s because their recipes can’t be spiralized.
Thankfully, pickling and fermentation are as old as time; not even a glamorous half-dressed French cook clinging to her rolling pin could make it sexy. It’s all about bacteria and lactic acid and belching buckets or decomposing vegetables. Fermentation doesn’t rely on dietary trends, if it did, we wouldn’t have been eating age-old staples like bread, cheese, wine, beer, charcuterie, or dare I say it, chocolate. More importantly, fermentation is an integral part of who we are and how we digest our food. It’s alive, dynamic and essential to life on earth.
I pickle and preserve lots of things, but there is always a jar of Chinese pickled cabbage and ginger in my fridge. It comes out in the summer when the BBQ is sizzling with Asian marinaded chicken, but it’s also perfect in the cooler months with pulled pork, Hoisin.duck or a whole poached chicken in an aromatic Chinese master stock. That said, it’s equally great with cheese on a sandwich.
This video by Sandor Katz makes the case for fermentation beautifully.
Here are a few of my fermentation favorites:
And finally this, from Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
“To ferment your own food is to lodge a small but eloquent protest – on behalf of the senses and the microbes – against the homogenization of flavors and food experiences now rolling like a great, undifferentiated lawn across the globe. It is also a declaration of independence from an economy that would much prefer we remain passive consumers of its standardized commodities, rather than creators of idiosyncratic products expressive of ourselves and of the places where we live, because your pale ale or sourdough bread or kimchi is going to taste nothing like mine or anyone else’s.”