January 17 – Sourdough Starter

            Back in 2018, I decided to figure out sourdough to make pan de campagne, or country bread.  We usually buy this bread at Whole Foods.  I wanted to try baking it myself.  Baking is a lot of work and requires immense precision.  I am not that kind of cook.  I am an improv artist in the kitchen, eyeballing, instead of measuring, replacing ingredients when need be, or just saying, I could make this better.  You cannot do that in baking.  No. No. No.  You must follow the directions.  I consider directions challenges.  I question the directions and the authority of the person giving me the directions.  When I was a kid I drove my parents and my teachers crazy.  I still feel this way even now.  Take GPS routes.  They give me directions and I wonder why they want me to go a certain way and I deviate if I think I know a better route.  I cannot help myself.

            Anyway, I am not a great baker as a result.  But in order to make the effort I bought sourdough starter from King Arthur flour.  That was four years ago.  Sourdough is a living organism, a natural yeast and lactic acid that grows from fermentation of flour and water.  Sourdough was the basis of baking before cultured yeast and it was used by pioneers and by prospectors during the gold rush. Hence San Francisco sourdough.  All they needed was water, flour and some wild yeast floating through the air.  (You can use the bacteria growing in mold culture if you know what you are doing.) To use the starter, you have to keep it alive or “refreshed.” If you take care of it, it can last for years.  There are stories of families passing the sourdough starter down through generations. 

            So now I have the obsession of keeping the sourdough alive.  It is not easy.  I have brought it back from the brink many times.  When we travel, it can get to the point of no return because it is not easy to explain to a cat sitter how to refresh the starter.  But I work on it until it bubbles back to life.  

            I think I have used it three or four times to cook—pancakes, bread, crumpets (those were delicious).  One other issue with sourdough is that, like yeast, you have to give it time to work its magic.  That would require me to plan ahead and when it comes to food, I am not always ready to do that.  

            Yeah, it is kind of weird. But it is little things in life that are not taken too seriously, that ultimately make life interesting.  Look at everything you just learned about sourdough!

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