Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

February 25, 2011

In Praise of Rotten Food

Filed under: Vinting — paragardener @ 7:35 pm

Many people wander this Earth in stark fear of the invisible microbial world, creating a “kill zone” around themselves with antibacterial soap, surface cleansers and even Lysol spray that is supposed to slay any bacteria that remain drifting in the air. It goes against “common sense” and the evidence presented by science, but advertising is much more powerful. It creates an aesthetic wherein kimchi and fancy cheeses smell bad, but Glade and carcinogenic “new car smell”  are delicious treats for your nose.

Then there is Sandorkraut — a prolific fermentor and avid dirt worshiper. Okay, not dirt worshiper, but microbe fetishist anyways. Says Sandor: “A fetish, according to Webster’s, is anything ‘supposed to possess magical powers’ and thereby worthy of ‘special devotion.’ Fermentation is magical and mystical, and I am deeply devoted to it.” Beautiful. Fermentation in the broad sense includes the processes that keep soil fertile and finish decomposing our mortal coils… both are transformations carried out by the silent majority of microbes. These microbes are like “The Force” as explained by Yoda… they permeate everything and bind life into one inextricable fabric.

Sandor Katz lives on a rural homestead inhabited by faeries (queer folk, not the spirits associated with pre-Celtic mounds). There people dwell as communal generalists, living into larger-than-life nicknames à la Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (some friends mentioned are Nettles, Ha! and Dr. Crazy Owl.) Sandorkraut doesn’t want to make any claim about live and fermented foods that can’t be backed up, but he clearly believes that their nutritional and immune benefits will extend people’s lives, especially those with AIDS.

The idea is that bacteria, yeast and mold start breaking food down for you, changing the flavor and improving the efficiency with which you absorb nutrients. The desirables kill off food poisoning bugs with alcohol or lactic acid. In commercial food production, Pasteurization enters the picture and the food is practically heat-sterilized before you can eat it. But, if you opt for the special yogurt or make your own, you get live bugs into your body, which compete with the problem bugs and stimulate your immune system to boot.

The basic technology for fermenting foods like sauerkraut and pickles is a bucket. Vegetables, herbs, maybe some water and/or salt goes into the bucket and you set a plate in the bucket, below the surface of the water, holding the food down (it probably needs extra weight, perhaps a jug of water). Presto waito! No need to add packets of yeast or bacteria – they are already all over your home!

Stockpot covered with a paper towel.

WILD WINE: Dilute honey or maple syrup with three or four parts water. You may add flavorings, such as a couple thinly-sliced oranges to go with the syrup. Cover with a clean cloth, to catch dust but allow single-celled organisms in. Stir at least twice a day for about four days. Once it is bubbling good (sic), take out the flavoring and transfer to a jug to age under a fermentation lock for one month+. Note the steel stockpot as a fermentation faux pas: only glass, ceramic, or food-grade plastic should be used.

Packets of yeast and so on didn’t come out until Louis Pasteur upset the scene in the second half of the 1800’s. Before that, there was wild fermentation. People used microbes in the air or on the skins of fruits. If you could keep a special strain of fermentation microbes going in a “starter,” that made you really cool. People saved lumps of sourdough, didn’t rinse their beer barrels, or made cheese on the floor of certain caves to get the best microbe mix. Now sophisticated microbe farmers sell “Turbo Yeast — Maximum Alcohol Content” and “Fast-Rise Baker’s Yeast.” You can even get rennet – the enzyme that allows milk to become cheese – from vegetable sources, avoiding the use of calves’ stomachs. The newer technological controls over fermentation are totally a positive, if you are aware that they are just choices.

Many is the brew instructor who lays down strict guidelines about temperature, timeframe, and yeast cultivars to be used, then drops metabisulfites into the mix while warning about the danger of contamination! But, beer is quite a safe product — the only danger of contamination is that your beer will taste a bit different. One culture’s off flavor is another’s prized delicacy, so why worry? Cleanliness is sufficient, with no sterility fetish required.

BTW, Sandorkraut has been doing wild fermentation experimentally and compulsively for years, living with AIDS, and never suffered nor given anyone food poisoning. He might know what he is doing, so consider buying his book Wild Fermentation if you’ve ever dreamed of making your own pickles, cheeses, miso or jailhouse-style hooch.

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February 23, 2011

Better Names for this Blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — paragardener @ 11:22 pm

Hedge Doctor

Plants are People Power

The Intoxicant Specialist

Social Ferment(ation)

Solidarity and Soil

Ethan’s Blog

Oh well, I was just excited when I googled “dirt worship” and very little came up. It’s almost like I had an original thought!

A while ago, a door-to-door salesman’s eyes bugged out and he jumped back, yelling “There’s a spider on you!” I looked down at the spider running across my shirt, and thought to myself, “It’s just a bene (pronounced ‘benny,’ a beneficial organism),” so I looked up and said, “Oh, he’s fine.” I figured I might be starting to look like some kind of tree-hugging dirt worshiper, which, literally speaking, I am.

Just don’t think that that makes me into the most scrupulous recycler or anything like that. It’s only a different point of view.

Also, don’t take it as evangelism. I may worship a prehistoric agricultural deity, but something tells me it is ok, even extra appropriate, for hairdressers, astronomers, hunter-gatherers and sundry to bow down at different altars (including secular, atheist devotions, Mom). I yam what I yam.

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