Alaskan Sourdough: A story

While I was writing my last post about using our new sourdough starter for the first time, I was really excited to find a particular sourdough cookbook available.

This is the cookbook that started me on making sourdough. I had found it in the library in Victoria, BC. I took many notes from it, and I’m glad I did, because I never saw it again. Until tonight!

I’ve ordered myself a copy and can’t wait until it comes in.  I collect cookbooks, with a preference for older ones and historical cookery, and I love cookbooks that you can read for the information and stories that are included.  This is one of those.  It’s just chock full of interesting things.

This will not be a review of the book, however.  I’m just going to flat out recommend getting it, if you have an interest in sourdough cooking.

What I’m going to do, instead, it tell you the tragic tale of our first sourdough starter.

I still miss that starter.

It was the starter recipe from this book that used potato water, and informed that, unlike other starters, this would start out strong and become milder over time.

How true that was!

It also said that, while the starter could be used after three days, it was really better to use it for the first time after at least a week.  When we made it, we did use the optional active dry yeast.  We also used it for the first time at three days.  Because we are impatient children who fail at delayed gratification.

At least we were, back then.

After three days of fermentation, that starter had a powerful scent to it that was almost alcoholic.

In fact, it probably was.

We mixed up one of the fastest and most basic recipes in the book.  Flapjacks.

Oh, what excitement to watch when that soda and starter began to mix!  That batter almost overflowed my bowl!  And the smell.  Wow!

We made up our first batch of flapjacks which looked wonderful and smelled delicious.

Still rather alcoholic, too.

To say those flapjacks were strongly flavoured would be an understatement.  It was amazing and delicious, but so strong, we had to eat it carefully, pausing while chewing to mouth-breath out the fumes; it was trying to sip cognac, when what you really wanted to do was toss it back in one gulp.  Talk about putting hair on your chest!

As delicious as it was, we did wait until the end of seven days before using it again.

And use it we did!  For almost two years, we kept that starter going in Victoria.  I didn’t do a lot of baking at the time; we were living in military quarters and the oven had such horrible cold spots, I couldn’t bake bread or even cakes, though I could get away with doing muffins or biscuits.  So it was mostly pancakes that we used it for.

The container we kept it in was a giant Thatsa Bowl from Tupperware, and it was kept half full pretty much constantly.  We were, of course, careful to just keep the lid sitting on top, rather than closed tight, so it wouldn’t explode on us.

Then my husband left the military.  The Department of National Defense would pay for a move up to the point of origin, so we moved back to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  One of my brothers had a rental property there that happened to be available, so we rented the house from him.  Part of the deal was that he would sometimes stay with us when he was too tired from a 12 hour shift to commute out of the city.

My husband and our then two year old daughter drove from Victoria to Winnipeg, with the sourdough starter carefully wrapped and safe in the trunk.

Once in Winnipeg, we continued to use it, keeping the bowl handy on the kitchen counter.  Over the next while, my brother would sometimes spend the night, but with his shifts, we didn’t actually see each other much.  He would also bring his own food or snacks, so as not to disturb us.  We left his stuff alone, he left ours alone.  Once in a while, we even got to share a meal together, but not often.

One weekend, we had plans to stay with my husband’s family for a couple of nights.  They lived in another town.  It just happened that my mother had plans to attend a conference in Winnipeg that weekend, and had planned to stay at my brother’s house – with us – for the same two nights.  We barely crossed paths when she arrived and we left, so there wasn’t much visiting or conversation between us.

When we got back, she was already gone, and we discovered she had “cleaned” our home.

When we opened the lid on the sourdough container, it was full of murky water, completely destroyed.

We found out later, what happened.

On waking up in the morning, my mother had made herself some coffee, then went into the fridge for something to have with it.  There was a bag at the top of the fridge that she opened and it had donuts in it, so she took one.

We actually didn’t know what was in that bag.  It was my brother’s, so we never looked.

I don’t remember how long that bag was there.

Unfortunately, it was only after she’d started eating it that my mother realized the donut had mold on it.

She was, understandably, quite disgusted.

Thinking this was a sign of our own lack of housekeeping, she took it upon herself to “clean” the house.

Which meant she threw out an awful lot of stuff.

In the process, she saw the container on the kitchen counter and looked inside.  What she found was a bubbling, strongly smelling concoction she didn’t recognize.

After that moldy donut, she assumed it was something else that had gone off.  There was so much in the container, however, that she decided to just put it to soak, rather than try and dump it.

When we finally talked and everything was explained, she did apologize for destroying our starter.

Unfortunately, even after trying again, we were never able to recreate its distinctive flavour.  It’s entirely possible that, while we did use commercial yeast when we first made it, it was still influenced by the wild yeasts in the air of where we were living.  Which would be different on a rock sticking out of the ocean than what would be in a prairie city.

Whatever the reason, it was a total loss.  Not only have we never been able to recreate it, but we’ve never been able to sustain a starter for that long, either.

Perhaps, after the cookbook I just ordered arrives, I will see if there was some detail I had forgotten and neglected to include in my notes, and we will finally be able to do it again.  Or at least something close.

It’ll be fun to try, either way!

The Re-farmer

4 thoughts on “Alaskan Sourdough: A story

  1. Pingback: The Transformation of Sir Sour Alot | The Re-Farmer

  2. Pingback: More baking, and my daughter works in a tent now | The Re-Farmer

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