24 August 2022

Wild Ferment

Posted by the Cake Shop

What makes a recipe book truly worship-worthy? Is it beautiful pictures and that covetable coffee-table heft? Is it technical brilliance, a clear presentation of complex methods that you’d never have figured out on your own? Or is it simplicity, the feeling of inspiration that comes from seeing new flavours brought together in uncomplicated ways?

Terry says:

I had a long conversation about this with John the other day, and strangely enough, we both ended up mentioning the same book: Ferment, by Holly Davis. We’d come to it by different paths – I’d ordered it because it was on the reading list for a macrobiotic foods course I was taking, while John had been searching for a simple kimchi recipe. He’s been eating so much kimchi for breakfast that he’s had to start making his own: a milestone we all arrive at eventually.

The book has an introduction by the author of the original fermentation bible, Sandor Ellix Katz, which is quite the stamp of approval – but while Katz’s books have always been amazing resources for obsessive nerds, Davis writes in a way that is profoundly approachable. Her style is punchy, buoyant, full of colour; there’s a touch of that Aussie familiarity that makes me feel right at home. The recipes are easy and accessible, but always satisfying for the curious palate. There’s something really special about her flavour combinations, John said, and I couldn’t agree more – in fact, I’d had my mind blown by Davis’s singular palette many years before, as a squatter in Sydney.

During the late 80s and early 90s, I wasn’t worshipping recipe books per se, but I did worship the food from Iku Wholefoods Kitchen in Sydney. A group of us would congregate there at a certain time on a Sunday to receive whatever they had left over from the week. The staff were always generous and we were always hungry – but even as poor young scavengers we knew that we’d got our hands on something special. Carrot salads dressed with mirin. Black rice pudding. Nori parcels with umeboshi plum. As a malnourished punk you could feel the health beaming into your corpuscles. Those are moments that I remember with perfect clarity – my first taste of umeboshi, that salty-sour-sweet surprise. 

Iku was Holly Davis’s restaurant, co-founded with William Venter in 1985. Before that, she’d cut her teeth at the late great Food for Thought in Covent Garden – a touchstone for me and many others, another instance of cross-over and connection. When I read Ferment, I have a sense of how my previous influences and inspirations always seem to return to interweave themselves into my present. It really is a beautiful book, one that John and I have recommended repeatedly – what’s more, we’ve decided that we’re going to work our way through the recipes together, one by one. It’s a fun challenge to do with a friend, and practically speaking it’s good to have someone to compare notes with. There’s a red cabbage ginger kraut with seaweed that’s first on my list – a perfect example of the surprising, subtle flavour twists that are Davis’s speciality.

Books mentioned in this blog post