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Book Review: Ferment by Holly Davis

I once had the pleasure of attending a cooking class with Holly Davis and the much bigger pleasure of eating the fruits of that labour. Holly Davis, who was one of the founders of Sydney’s Iku Wholefoods, is not one of the look-at-me rock stars of contemporary cooking. Rather, she is held in high esteem as a quietly radical teacher and cook whose creative advocacy for wholefoods has no real equal.

“I hold that every real food has its place and that no one food is ‘super’ enough to warrant limiting our choices in terms of what we eat,” Davis writes in her introduction to her new cookbook Ferment: A guide to the ancient art of culturing foods (Murdoch Books).

Ara'n xbreac speckled tea loaf
Ara’n breac Celtic speckled tea loaf

Fermentation is going through something of revival. Thanks to its slightly mystical connotations in spiritual ceremonies, natural remedies and eco-mindfulness, its time has come again. As Davis puts it: “When food is fermented, it is predigested by the micro-organisms present. The texture and flavour transform and nutrients that might otherwise have been unavailable to us are made useful”.

As we move from shopping at ubiquitous supermarkets to local organic growers and sellers, we are also moving to more thoughtful and healthy approaches in the home kitchen.

For those of you who are thinking Royal Easter Show bottled cumquats, this book is going to be an astonishing learning curve.

Davis’ cookbooks are voyages of sensual discovery more than invitations to self-improvement.

Intense flavours, elimination of toxins, probiotics, the fostering of microbial communities that influence our immune and respiratory systems and our weight and better digestion are some of the rewards of fermentation, not to mention the preservation of produce. Anyone with a bounty of produce in their backyard kitchen garden should have this book front and centre of their kitchen library.

kumquat xcassia and bay
Kumquat, cassia and bay

The best thing about Holly Davis is that she is a spruiker for intelligent eating, but not at the expense of plain pleasure. Her food never places ideological zealotry above the simple joy of taste, which makes her cookbooks voyages of sensual discovery more than invitations to self-improvement.

Beautifully laid out with simple personal reflections ahead of each recipe, this collection of taste sensations is created with the ordinary home cook in mind. There is nothing esoteric here – and the artful, palate-stimulating photography by Ben Dearnley supports the notion of simplicity and unfussy ambitions. A page of butter chunks from grass-fed cows is enough to inspire, let alone the recipes themselves.

Beet with juniper01
Beet with juniper

From recognisable standards such as Dill-Pickled Cucumbers, through to Raspberry, Ginger and Juniper Sparkleaid, Davis displays a diverse repertoire of dishes that run from the historical to the contemporary festive.

Those seeking to cotton on to currently fashionable ingredients from Labneh to Heirloom Yoghurt and Kombucha will be satisfied. Those a step ahead or simply looking to vary their home cooking will find incredibly appetising offerings including a stunning looking Roast Shio-Koji chicken (“arguably the easiest, most delicious roast or barbecued chook ever”) or Peach, Pecan and Ginger cake.

A useful glossary of ferment terminology and ingredients is included and a short list of practical equipment but there is nothing intimidating about this book.

Broadx xbean salad
Broad bean salad with pepitas and oats

“I feel sure that consciousness love and community are every bit as vital to us as the macro- and micro-nutrients we depend on for life”, declares this masterful chef. This book gives those of us who believe in combining all of the above an elegant edge.

Ferment is published by Murdoch Books

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