NPR listeners know this title is a revived Eisenhower-era personal essay program in which average Joes and Janes, and then some famous ones, voice their personal credos and tenets. With listening to enough of them, you start wondering what your own walking papers might be, especially since so many of them veer heavily into faith, or a leap thereof, into the unknowable. So I have done some thinking.
I believe in the power of microbes.
My smaller forays into food preservation have given me a healthy (and maybe unwarranted) fear of BAD microbes, so if I can something, I am most certainly doing it in a way least hospitable to something that can sicken us. With thought, though, I realize that most microbes are good, or at least benign. And, if you pair with them correctly, wonderful things can happen.
I am talking about sourdough bread, of course. But I am also talking about my other small steps into yogurt-, kefir- and cheesemaking, and those countless reliable others out there who brew beer, make wine, and make other wonderful comestibles like tempeh, kimchi, mead; soy sauce, miso, sauerkraut; bacon, ham, sausage, jerky. Salt cod, smoked salmon. All these wonderful things take advantage of something unseen. And if that isn’t faith, then I don’t know what is.
And then there’s the garden. I am in love with my compost piles, as has been well documented here. By pairing with compost, I give my plants a little microbial home cooking, in the hope that (most of them) will end up helping MY home cooking. Compost, of course, is the ultimate belief in the power of putrefaction; it’s little deaths, and their products, that make it all happen.
Most of what our food preservation is is a suspension of putrefaction: a short vacation before the ultimate death of what we eat. It’s a way to extend the harvest. And in most instances, it’s a delicious detour.