Quarantine. Social Distancing. Covid-19. All words I would be 100% happy to NEVER hear again. But here we are. And I personally don’t think this is going to be truly “over” anytime soon. As we are all facing great stress, both at home and at work, I have chosen to focus on welcome distractions. Like my Sourdough Starter. Turns out it has had some great lessons to teach.
I, like all of you, have had ALL OF THE FEELS this past few weeks. Shock, dismay, despair, fear, anger, amazement, you name it. I’ve felt it. And whenever there are SO MANY FEELINGS, I find it useful to get lost in something new. Something distracting. Something I know nothing about. And in this case something that can teach me so many lessons!
My first attempt at keeping a sourdough starter alive was last summer. It had been on my mind as a potential project for awhile. In a strange twist of fate, I started a conversation with a coworker that I didn’t know very well (well, I knew I liked working with him, I just didn’t know him very well personally). During this conversation, when I mentioned that I would like to try my hand at bread making using a sourdough starter, I found out that not only did he have a sourdough starter, but he was a prolific baker. WHAT?!?! (Note To Self: talk to colleagues…really ask them questions…you never know what unbelievable talents they may have!)
I named that sourdough starter Poppy and I bought books and read websites and fed that thing like my newest child. But ultimately I never did bake with it. Poppy met an unfortunate end. It turned out to be poor timing for me-I was busy and distracted and not really in the frame of mind to start a whole new hobby that required a lot of learning.
But when we started quarantine 2020, I decided to give it another go. I had just received a basket of birthday goodies from a group of neighbors that had contained a loaf of fresh baked sourdough bread. My neighbor (and all around amazing human), had just started baking with her sourdough starter and was happy to leave some starter on my doorstep. Poppy was re-born.
My colleague was willing to again share websites, recipes, and pointers with me. He would text me photos of his creations and encourage me to just bake something. My neighbor left a bag of dark rye flour on my doorstep so I could feed my starter (as it was getting hard to find). My bestie picked me up a bag of unbleached, all purpose flour on one of her shopping trips as I was having a hard time finding any in my neck of the woods. Seemed written in the stars this time. Poppy, my sourdough starter, had found a home. And turned out she had some important lessons to teach me.
Lessons from my Sourdough Starter:
Time and biology are your friends. Poppy doesn’t look like much-just some tan bubbly material sitting in a jar. But she’s filled with natural yeast, and if you give her enough time, she can make boring old flour into an amazing treat. Some ideas may not seem like much. But give them some time and they can be just what you needed.
Sometimes the byproducts of your efforts are just as important as those efforts themselves. Poppy makes amazing bread. But the discard I collect when feeding her also makes amazing pancakes, waffles, muffins, etc. Sometimes that which you think is only destined to be “thrown away” can also create amazing new things.
Accuracy is important. I have owned a food scale for many years, but just recently have started using it for baking. It is amazing how totally off measuring by my varied measuring cups/spoons can be with an ingredient like flour-and if the amount isn’t correct, the entire loaf of bread can be ruined. Especially in the era of “fake news”, it is important to be accurate. Half truths and “close to the truth” can get you into trouble, or at least produce a much lesser product.
Small tweaks can bring changes. In baking, changing up the ratio of flours can produce a whole new flavor. Small changes can produce big differences. I think often we think in order to get different results we need to “burn the whole thing down”, when sometimes all we may need is to make a small change.
Patience is a virtue. Making bread using a sourdough starter takes patience. You need to give your starter time to mature. You need to give your dough time to rise. You cannot rush it. And just like a fine bread made with a mature sourdough starter, sometimes you just need to wait for all to become right with life. You cannot rush it.
Bread can bring people together. I have all of the sudden met all kinds of people who want to make bread from a sourdough starter! My colleague, several neighbors, a cardiologist friend of mine, a bunch of new friends in a Facebook group. We all exchange tips and recipes and most of all hope. Hope that this nondescript sourdough starter will give us an amazing loaf of bread, or some other amazing treat. And after all…isn’t hope what it is all about?
RESOURCES FOR YOUR SOURDOUGH STARTER
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Tools for your sourdough starter
Artisan Sourdough Made Simple by Emilie Raffa
Where to get flour for your sourdough starter
And from those of us on the front lines: a million thank yous for all of your support and well wishes. Thank you for staying at home. Thank you for finding your own distractions that have allowed you to thrive while finding a new normal. Because together we will rise. Just like our sourdough starters.