BOOK REVIEW: Real Food Fermentation, Revised and Expanded by Alex Lewin

Real Food Fermentation, Revised and Expanded: Preserving Whole Fresh Food with Live Cultures in Your Home KitchenReal Food Fermentation, Revised and Expanded: Preserving Whole Fresh Food with Live Cultures in Your Home Kitchen by Alex Lewin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: December 21, 2021

This is an expanded edition of a book that explores the process of fermenting a wide range of foods and beverages, including – new to this edition – sourdough bread. It’s a great book for a neophyte such as myself as it covers all the basics without getting too arcane (though it does include natto and some other regional foods that may not be widely familiar.) The book provides step-by-step instructions for making sauerkrauts (and variations such as Kimchi,) yoghurt & kefir, fermented fruit condiments, beverages (alcoholic and non-,) bases / starters (e.g. vinegar,) and sourdough products (including, but not limited to, bread.) It describes some of the challenges one may run up against as well as showing what equipment one will need. It also proposes some of the ways a curious person might experiment with variations.

Color photos are used to clarify the production processes as well as to show appetizing finished products that will whet one’s appetite.

If one is looking to get into a narrow domain of fermentation, e.g. making beer or other alcoholic beverages, one may want to look elsewhere for a more specialized and in-depth guide (of which there are many.) However, this book may introduce one to ideas for brewing adventures one wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

This book is an awesome choice for someone looking to get into or to expand their food fermentation activities. It’s well-organized, beautifully presented, and – as I mentioned – not overwhelming. With the mounting evidence of the benefits of fermented foods, this is a great guide to learn more about how one can best begin producing such foods at home.


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BOOK REVIEW: The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great DrinksThe Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

This book is about how plants are used in the making of alcoholic beverages from vegetative matter that serves as the primary ingredient in fermentation to obscure herbs and berries used to lend subtle flavoring. The book covers a lot of ground, being at once a guide to the chemistry of fermentation and distillation, a mixologist’s recipe book, and a guide to growing the plants used to make booze.

I will admit, if I weren’t such a neophyte to both subjects at hand – botany and alcoholic beverages – I probably wouldn’t have rated this book so highly. For me, almost every page offered new fun facts about alcoholic beverages, some of which I’ve consumed and many of which I never have. So if you have a high degree of understanding about one or both of these subjects, you may not find the book as intensely satisfying. Also, at times the book comes off a bit pretentiously – hardcore drunks probably don’t want to be shackled with so many rules for optimal alcoholic consumption (e.g. what type of glass they should drink a given drink from, etc.), but hardcore drunks are probably not a huge readership demographic. (It should also be noted that the reader gets some knowledge to fight pretentiousness as well, such as against gin drinkers who say they would never drink vodka when, in fact, they are drinking juniper berry-flavored vodka.)

The book consists of three parts. The first part describes fermentation and distillation and then offers two sub-parts dealing with the most everyday bases for alcoholic drinks (e.g. corn, grapes, potato, and wheat) as well as some of the more obscure and unusual objects of fermentation, respectively.

The second part delves into the plants that are added for flavoring or the like, and these are organized by: 1.) herbs and spices, 2.) flowers, 3.) trees, 4.) fruit, and 5.) nuts and seeds.

The final part gives some guidance on how some of these plants can be grown. It should be noted that this section is a bit thinner because a lot of information on growing the plants is covered in side-bars in the earlier sections and also this isn’t the book’s main thrust. The third part is similarly divided up between herbs, flowers, trees, berries & vines, and fruits & vegetables.

There are quite a few graphics, mostly in the form of line drawings, throughout the book – some are purely aesthetic and others are informative (e.g. drawings of plants.) There is also a recommended reading section that proposes further books to expand one’s understanding at the nexus of booze and plants. The book presents a lot of material in text boxes that set the information aside. These boxes include recipes, but also insights into how to best grow these plants with particularly emphasis given to how the process is optimized for those growing for beverage production (e.g. sometimes the optimal variety isn’t the most common variety.)

I enjoyed this book. It was readable, full of fun bits of information, and written in a light-hearted style. If you’re looking for a book on plants and alcoholic beverages, this is a good starting point. It doesn’t get too deep in the weeds but yet offers some obscure but amusing factoids.

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DAILY PHOTO: Egg Coffee, Hanoi

Taken in Hanoi in December of 2015

 

 

Egg coffee is a Hanoi staple. It’s made with egg yolk, condensed milk, and sugar so it’s not exactly low-cal, but it tastes delightful. The scuttlebutt is that it was invented when milk was in short supply during the war. The beverage is said to have been invented at Giang Cafe, but I couldn’t say for certain that it’s the same Giang Cafe we were at (shown above.) However, the place did have the feel of a local institution. Imagine people huddled around tiny tables on stools, the floor coated with sunflower seed shells, and nary an empty stool in the multi-floored establishment.

BOOK REVIEW: A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

A History of the World in 6 GlassesA History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Standage’s book takes a fascinating look at the effect that six key beverages had in the unfolding of world events, as well as how the beverages themselves made friends and enemies. The drinks in question are beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola. There are two chapters for each of these drinks. They follow a chronological order based upon when the respective drink rose to prominence, but within the discussion there is overlap of time periods. For example, both the chapters on spirits and tea consider the effect of those beverages on the American Revolution (i.e. the Whiskey Rebellion and the Boston Tea Party, respectively.)

As the author points out, there’s a natural subdivision to the book, which is that the first three beverages are alcoholic and the last three are caffeinated. There’s another way of looking at it, and that’s the means used to achieve a drink that wasn’t a health hazard. The first three drinks achieve germ-killing by fermentation, the next two by boiling, and the last through technology.

The era of beer is associated with the Agricultural Revolution and the growing importance of cereal grains. Geographically, the region of focus is the Fertile Crescent and Egypt. Among the more interesting points of discussion is the role of beer (along with the related commodities of cereal grains and bread) in the development of written language.

The era of wine is associated with the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome. Readers of the classics will be aware that wine was much celebrated among the Greeks and Romans, so much so that they developed gods of wine in their mythologies (Dionysus and Bacchus, respectively.) Of course, wine played no small role in Christian mythology as well–e.g. Jesus turns water to wine.

Spirits are related to the Colonial period, though they were first developed much earlier. The author emphasizes that these were the first global drinks. While beer and wine were robust to going bad, they could spoil in the course of long sea voyages.

Alcohol of all kinds has always attracted opposition. This conflict, of course, owes to the fact that people under the influence of alcohol frequently act like idiots. One might expect that the transition to discussion of non-alcoholic beverages would correspond to the end of controversy, but that’s not the case. Each of the beverages brought controversy in its wake. There were attempts to ban coffee in the Islamic world where its stimulative effect was conflated with intoxication. Coca-Cola became associated with capitalism and American influence, and drew its own opposition because of it. It seems there’s no escape from controversy for a good beverage.

The most fascinating discussion of coffee had to do with the role of cafés as corollaries to the internet. Centuries before computers or the internet as we know it, people went to cafés to find out stock values and commodity prices, to discuss scholarly ideas, and to find out which ships had come and gone from port.

The role of tea in world history is readily apparent. Besides the aforementioned Boston Tea Party, there were the Opium Wars. This conflict resulted from the fact that the British were racking up a huge tea bill, but the Chinese had minimal wants for European goods. Because the British (through the East India Company) didn’t want to draw down gold and silver reserves, they came up with an elaborate plan to sell prohibited opium in China in order to earn funds to pay their tea bill. Ultimately, Britain’s tea addiction led to the growing of tea in India to make an end-run around the volatile relations with China.

The book lays out the history of Coca-Cola’s development before getting into its profound effect on international affairs. A large part of this history deals with the Cold War years. While Coca-Cola was developed in the late 19th century, it was really the latter half of the 20th century when Coke spread around the world—traveling at first with US troops. The most interesting thing that I learned was that General Zhukov (a major Soviet figure in the winning of World War II) convinced the US Government to get Coca-Cola incorporated to make him some clear Coca-Cola so that he could enjoy the beverage without the heart-burn of being seen as publicly supporting an American entity (i.e. it would look like he was drinking his vodka, like a good Russian should.) General Zhukov was perhaps the only person to stand in opposition to Stalin and live (the General was just too much of a national hero to screw with.)

There’s also an interesting story about how the cola wars played out in the Middle East. Both Coke and Pepsi wanting access to the large Arab market, and were willing to forego the small Israeli market to pave the way for that access. When Coke finally had to relent due to public outrage and accusations of anti-Semitic behavior, Pepsi slid in and followed Coca-Cola’s policy of snubbing Israel in favor of the Arab world.

I enjoyed this book, and think that any history buff will as well. One doesn’t have to have a particular interest in food and beverage history to be intrigued by stories contained in this book.

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