Nothing so sour as success

Sourdough bread (c) 2019 Lif StrandI’m flyin’ high and I cannot lie — I finally made a loaf of sourdough bread that not only tastes good, but is actually sour! It’s a kind of miracle!

Oh, it’s not San Francisco sourdough, but then I don’t live in San Francisco, whereas San Francisco sourdough yeast does live there.  And that’s the key, it turns out.  Love the one you’re with.

Yeast, that is.  If I can’t have the San Francisco sourdough I love, I can love the New Mexico sourdough I’m with.

Okay, enough play on song lyrics.

Last week I was poking through a permaculture forum thread that was focused on sourdough bread.  More specifically, on capturing wild yeast for bread.  It’s something I’ve tried before, with poor results.  This time, though, the directions were different.  Way less complicated.

Easy, in fact.

In the past I’ve tried making starter with the yeast off of berries (juniper berries is what I’ve got around here, and trust me, gin flavored bread sucks).  I’ve tried enticing yeast already in my house, using complicated methods of “capturing” it similar to what was being discussed on the forum.  Unfortunately, if successful, that method creates a starter that you’re shackled to for life.  I don’t know about you, but much as I want to keep a 2500 year old starter that came by boat and on foot from the cradle of civilization on the other side of the planet (I made that up) fact is that it’s tedious, wasteful, and before I end up forgetting about the starter and killing it, it never makes a good loaf of bread for me anyway.

This method is so simple it’s scary:  mix a couple tablespoons of rye flour (organic of course!) with enough water to make a thin batter.  Cover with cloth.  Next day add more flour and a bit more water.  The third day clean up the mess because I used too small a container, add more flour and water.  The following day make bread with it.

No retaining a bit of starter back, feeding it, throwing out excess when I don’t bake with it right away, feeding it some more, shoving it into the back of the fridge to make it stop nagging, and then letting it die of neglect.

Better yet, inviting wild yeast (really, I think of it as feral, not wild) that’s been hanging around my kitchen watching me use commercial and alien yeasts from who knows where is like inviting wallflowers to join in with the dancing.  It’s like finally asking my friends to help me with a project.  It’s ultimately making bread that is truly of this place and time.

Yeah, it doesn’t taste like San Francisco.  But you know what?  I haven’t had any legitimate San Francisco sourdough bread in decades.  I don’t even know if my memory of it is real.  I know the bread I baked last night is real.

It’s dense, it’s sour, and it’s really mine.

And as a bonus…

Here are photos of tomatoes from my garden.  Will they ripen before first frost?  Will I get around to covering them at night when there is a first frost (generally mid-September, and it’s darned close to mid-September right now!).  Stay tuned!

unripe cherry tomatoes unripe Early Girl tomatoes

 

Eat and be eaten

Bread loafOne of the components of dough is yeast, and yeast is a living being. It has been dormant but wakes to its potential when given food and water.  Food and water — along with a few other things — are what all living things on this planet need to survive.

Because they are living things I think of yeast as little beasties that I’ve given the opportunity to make whoopee in wet flour. They live, they eat, they digest, they multiply to eat some more, and in the act of doing so they transform flour + water into bread dough.

And then I kill them.

All things eat, all things are eaten

The above phrase is either a quote or, more likely given my faulty memory, a paraphrase from a science fiction book I read years and years ago. I don’t remember the author’s name, the book’s title, or much of the plot – but I remember that phrase because it is a truth that I remind myself of often.

I feed the yeast and the yeast feeds me. The little beasties perform an everyday kind of act that is easy to let pass by without acknowledging the miracle of transformation and the sacrifice involved. The living beings that are yeast will ultimately be given to the heat of the oven, where they will die. What is left is the structure they’ve built for me, a loaf of bread.

Keeping this in mind as I mix flour, salt, yeast, and water, then let it rise, fold it to give the yeast more to eat, and eventually bake the dough in the oven, makes it easier for me to remember to be grateful for my bread and all the food that I eat.  Gratitude is the only way to survive the harsh reality of eat and be eaten that describes life on this plane of existence.

No-knead bread recipe