Lessons From My Sourdough Starter
I have a sourdough starter. For those who are not into home baking, a starter is what people used to raise baked goods before they could buy yeast. According to Wiki, (Wikipedia, sourdough) sourdough probably originated in Ancient Egypt, around 1500 BCE, and was used right through the Middle Ages until it was replaced by barm from beer brewing and finally, dried yeast.
It lives in a jar, and is a thriving, frothing undemanding community of fungi and bacteria. The history and science of sourdough starters make for a fascinating study, but starters themselves are actually rather undemanding, considering the great work they do. A little warmish water, and a cup of flour daily, and they are ready to go whenever you want to make bread, pancakes or waffles and even cakes, muffins and biscuits.
But baking using a soudough starter is not a quick business. Even sourdough itself is not quick. A starter takes from 7 to 10 days to be usable, if you start from scratch, and it can be several months before it is at its best. The really great starters, though, are elderly. Starters have been handed down through families, carried across continents in covered wagons, and even napped under the blankets of miners on cold winter nights. No one appears to know how old the oldest sourdough starter is, but there are several accounts of some over 100 years old.
If you want to bake with sourdough, you start the day before, or the day before that, if the starter has been kept in the fridge. It needs a good feed a day or so before you wish to bake. Then, assuming it can double in size and has a goodly number of bubbles, you mix a cup of starter with a cup of flour and a cup of water, leave it overnight to make a sponge, and finally, the next morning, you can start making your bread.
It takes time, but as anyone who has ever eaten sourdough bread knows, it tastes great! It simply cannot be compared with the white fluffy ‘chorleywood‘ bread found in supermarkets today.
So many great things take time to develop. Wine. Babies. Gardens. Oak trees. Marriages. Yet we seem to want to do things ever quicker and quicker.
I read a post in a well known blog the other day. It was titled How to Learn a Language in 90 Days. It was a guest post, so not written by the blog’s usual author, and I still can’t decide how firmly the author’s tongue is in his cheek. It starts off well, but then suggests going to live in a country where people speak your target language, hiring a private tutor for several hours a day and even finding yourself a significant other who speaks the target language. Simple, move overseas, study at least 4 hours a day, get yourself a new partner and you too can learn a language in 90 days. Knowing the blog, I rather suspect the author knows exactly what he is saying…it is not possible to learn the language without doing the time. And if you only have 90 days to learn in, then you are going to have to take extreme measures.
I’m not sure why we have this obsession with doing things quickly. Things that happen quickly do not often seem that great to me. How about tornados, or earthquakes? Lives changed forever in less than a minute. A beloved pet can dash across a road and be gone in 10 seconds. A car crash, a heart attack, a drive-by shooting…..
So what have I learnt from my sourdough? Good things take time. Don’t rush, be patient, enjoy the process.
And then, tomorrow maybe, you’ll get to eat great bread!