Thursday, April 15, 2010


Most women who blog spend 78% of their entries chronicling their cats. Today I'll follow in that vein and write about a pet that is precious, keeps me company, craves my love and attention but can also survive without me for weeks: my sourdough starter.

A sourdough starter is a colony of live yeast that that live in a jar in the back left corner of your fridge. You use some of it in place of (or in addition to, YOU WIMP) commercial yeast when baking bread. Depending on how old your starter is, it gives your bread a distinctive sourdough flavor.

I bet you are still thinking about cats. Like a cat, you have to feed a sourdough starter every now and then. You feed it flour so the bacteria (lactobacilli) have something to munch on, and water so they have something to swim around and multiply in. Like sea monkeys, but with a much higher purpose. Unlike a cat, you can dehydrate your starter, grind it to a powder, and keep it in a Ziploc bag for easy storage and mobility, which is exactly what I did recently when I moved to London for several months. (My first exercise in starter transportation resulted in a yeasty pool in Shawn's floorboard during one hot, lengthy drive to SC. To this day I regret sopping it up with his copy of Green Mars. Darling, I'm so sorry.)

I'll spare you the details of how to start a starter, how to use it*, what to name it, etc., because there are multitudes of internet resources on these very topics, and I'd hate to cheat you out of that Google search. Though most instructions are incredibly specific and involve weighing your ingredients on a digital scale, resting your creation on the top shelf of your attic by the window, and stirring it counter-clockwise every nine hours, really all you need is flour and water. And your starter will consume pretty much whatever starchy matter you put in it, bubble up in satiated gratitude, and excrete a thick layer of grain alcohol for you. Just ask mine, who loves mashed potatoes and even disgusting whole-wheat flour. Next I plan to feed it crunched-up spaghetti noodles.

If you're wondering if the history of sourdough starters extends any farther back than the 70s when your aunt Judy kept one, it does. (My aunt Judy quit sourdough because the stuff was taking over her house, and it's safe to assume yours did the same.) According to online lore, sourdough was the earliest form of leavened bread, accidentally discovered by ancient Egyptians. Accomplished brewers, they were probably drunk when it happened. And (fast forwarding a bit) apparently it was a staple during the California Gold Rush. This raises the question, why wasn't "sourdough starter" one of the items you packed in your covered wagon along with bullets, wagon axles, and spare parts purchased at the General Store when playing Oregon Trail?

By the way, my sister's cat just had kittens so if you want something to cuddle while watching your starter activate, let me know. They are adorable and free for the taking.

*Though I will say sourdough starter makes a SUPERB onion ring batter. Just saying.

1 comment:

  1. My mom keeps those in our fridge whenever she is making sourdough bread. Yelch. It always creeps me out to think that there are living things in mom feeds them instant mashed potato flakes.