I was trying to decide which dried beans to pull from my garage freezer when I spied a lonely jar of some muddy colored something. I picked it up, frozen solid and greige in color, a lonely jar of something long forgotten. The label was peeling off from frost and age but I could still read it: Sourdough Starter, 2003.
My sourdough starter has a unique and colorful history. My dad got into bread baking back in the 1970s and had somehow procured a batch of what he claimed was hundreds of years old starter from a baker in Lisbon, Portugal while he was on business there. Determined to bring the stinky sludge back to the states, he cleverly hid it in some dirty laundry so when the custom’s agent opened his suitcase and took one whiff, my dad was waved through without question. I think the customs agent may have urged him to go straight home and wash his pungent laundry. My dad loved telling that story. I came by some of that starter and have kept it going for decades now. At some point along the way, I added in some 49er starter (presumably from the Gold Rush days if one believes the marketing hype from the company I bought it from) to give it my own flare. But I’ve had that batch since the 8os for sure.
Somehow, it became relegated to the freezer for the past few years before I rediscovered it last week. I was unsure what to expect but, calling it my new junior science experiment, I defrosted the starter and set it lovingly on the kitchen counter, stirring from time to time and encouraging it to grow. I think I even talked to it from time to time. Sure enough, within a few days it slowly started to bubble and churn. My starter had come back to life.
In the words of the iconic Barbara Streisand, portraying the equally iconic Fanny Brice, “Hello gorgeous.”
I kept sticking my nose in the starter, trying to decide it there was enough pungent flavor until I decided the worst that could happen was that I’d end up baking a bland loaf of bread. So, I made a test loaf, just to see what would happen and the results were surprising. It came out far more sour and pungent than I could have hoped for. Fluffy on the inside with a crunchy crust. With butter and some sea salt, it is the ideal bite. Add in a glass of red wine and a chunk of cheese who cares about self-isolation. We have homemade sourdough and a feast.
Allrecipes.com offers a very simple recipe for starting your own:
The technique is basically the same as my own though I got a bit of the mother batch, as I said, from my dad’s Lisbon contraband starter and I added in some when I ordered some 49er starter decades ago.
This pandemic has already taught me a lot about making do, pivoting, using what I have and now, reviving what may or may not still be viable. I had/have the time so giving it a try was low risk. I would do the same to try and revive a wilted plant or even grow some lemon seeds from my lemon bush.
Go and make yourself some sourdough starter. Or revive a plant. Fix a broken anything. Give it a try. After all, nobody is going anywhere for a while.