Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bertha, the Sourdough Bread Starter

In the last week or two, really, since the play has ended, I've been obsessing over the idea of baking bread.  Not just any bread, but bread made from Wild Yeast.  I partially blame this on my sister, who is very knowledgeable about healthy eating and has posted a variety of articles on Facebook that have been encouraging me to change some of my crappier eating habits.  We can discuss chia seeds at length in another post. Anyway, one of the articles got me thinking about how I should be making my own bread, and since I watch TV shows like Alaska: The Last Frontier and Alaskan Bush People, I naturally thought I shouldn't BUY yeast, I should CAPTURE it, WILD.

Enter, the Sourdough Starter.

I googled "how to make a sourdough starter," found a how-to that looked good and followed the directions.

The first day was easy.  I mixed 4 ounces of water with 4 ounces of flour (although I intend to make mine with organic whole grain eventually, the site said white flour was most dependable to start with), set the bowl on the counter and waited.

Now let me explain.  Weird experiments are fairly commonplace in my house.  I just spent two months making a Mushu costume out of spray foam and wire screening.  When my family sees weird, sticky objects drying in the basement, they don't get alarmed.  I guess the same goes for weird, sticky Pyrex measuring cups on the counter.

The first day was no problem.  It looked normal and smelled fine.

On the second day, bubbles eventually dotted the surface of the starter.  It grew slightly in size.  You could say it smelled yeasty.  Not unpleasant.

The third day was challenging.  It was distinctly sour.  I smelled it, but no one else seemed to notice.  My son frequently leaves his dirty socks around the house, but I never remembered them smelling like this…  Maybe everyone was ignoring it because they thought it was the kitchen garbage pail, which frequently went unmentioned because no one wanted to have to empty it - sort of like the fart rule of "Whoever smelt it, DELT it." The good thing about this day in the life of my starter was that it grew AMAZINGLY.  When I placed its delicate self in the Pyrex bowl, it was 2 cups in size. Before I knew it, it had grown to FOUR CUPS in SIZE!  I was so PROUD! AW, that's MY baby starter! I named it Bertha.  I made the mistake, at this point, of making my husband acknowledge my starter's existence.

"Check it out.  I'm making a sourdough starter.  You capture the wild yeast in the air and use it to make bread."  He looked vaguely interested, most likely he feigned this interest because I listen on a regular basis to his stories about carburetors, bronze worm gears and tiller attachments.  I held out the bowl for him to inspect.

"It's supposed to smell sour.  Smell."  I lifted the plastic wrap…

He leaned over and sniffed…


"Oh come ON," I said, "You're such an exaggerator!  It's not THAT bad."  Ok, so it smells bad.  But sour is the word, sour.  Isn't it supposed to smell sour?  It IS supposed to be for SOURdough.

So now Bertha is sitting on the counter again, well fed, but unloved by everyone except me. That's ok, she will have a chance to redeem herself when I make a beautiful loaf of sourdough bread next week.  My daughter told me she was "...wondering why the kitchen smelled like cheese."

When I came home the other day, I found an addition on my note asking everyone not to touch my starter.  Next to where I had written Sourdough starter:  DO NOT TOUCH, my husband had written,  "Who would want to?"

If we ever have to move to Alaska, I know my frontier skills will be much better than his.  

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