Monday, January 30, 2012

Sourdough - a story

In 2001, I decided I wanted to start making sourdough bread.  I ordered a starter from King Arthur Flour.  It was a great little starter.  Simple instructions (KAF is great with instructions) arrived with the container.  I followed them....until I didn't.  Life (work - new job) got in the way.  The poor little starter was neglected.  It died an untimely death.

Fast forward to 2008 - I decide it is time to attempt sourdough again, fully committed to the needs of a starter.  I considered purchasing another starter, but decided to give it a whirl "catching" my own.  I followed instructions very similar to these, except I recall using rye flour for a much longer time.  I caught a very vigorous rising yeast.  It was great.  I loved on that starter.  We were getting along so well.  Unlike the time before, I had plenty of folks more than willing to take a loaf or two of sourdough off my hands.  (While I love to bake bread and my family is only provided homebaked bread, we never finish a loaf.)  The starter lived with our family for quite some time.  It was a very happy existence until a busy period of work travel hit.  Knowing the starter's needs and my impending travel hades, I astutely decided to freeze a portion of the starter for posterity.

The frozen starter found its way to the back of the freezer.  You can fill in the rest.  I would occasionally see it back in there and ponder "I need to get that back out and love on it" but would quickly realize there were upcoming trips/family commitments/etc. that would cut into my attention and prevent the starter from receiving the love it needed to thrive again.  I finally dug it out this past fall.  No matter how much love and attention I showed the starter, it couldn't be revived.  It was absolutely my own doing.  I had a period of mourning.

I finally kicked myself into reality and decided to "catch" another starter.  Heck, I did it before with ease, right?  Apparently my first experience was not indicative of usual success levels.  No matter how many times I tried, I was not catching another wild type yeast!  I was so frustrated!  (Although, I do plan to try again this summer hoping that shifts in household temperature will be the key.  I will not give up easily!)

Sitting at Taekwondo one day with some other moms, I overheard one make reference to her sourdough starter.  I kindly requested a bit of her starter and she gladly shared.  That's what sourdough is really about - sharing.  This starter has a wonderful aroma and acidic bite.  (My fabulous wild-caught was a very vigorous riser, but didn't have a strong acidic bite.)  I promptly took the starter home and started loving on it.

Then my problem arose:  I was trying to make the new starter be just like my wild-caught one.  As in life, anytime you try to make someone or something into what you THINK they/it should be - you will get bit in the rear.

After coming to realization I wasn't in charge (which is incredibly difficult for me to accept in any situation), I had to get over my preconceived notions/convictions.  I had it in my mind that NO sourdough is TRUE sourdough unless the starter does ALL the rising.  (I often set terribly high standards for myself.)  The resulting loaves of sourdough were bricks with great flavor.  I finally caved and dissolved 1/2 T. of yeast in 1/4 c of warm water with 1 t. sugar.  I added this to my 12+ hr room temperature fermented starter.  The results can be seen here.

Moral of the story:  open yourself to new approaches and possibilities.  The results are always surprising and most often fabulous.

If you live nearby, let me know if you need some starter.  I finally have come to an understanding with it.

Notes from the needles:

Lots of things have flown off the needles during my absence.  (Knitting was one of the few things keeping me sane during the incredibly busy period.)

A quick garter stitch scarf from reclaimed silk cut in ribbons.  I'll find the band and post the particulars sometime.  (At least I *think* I will find the band.)