Way back in the early 70s, my parents discovered sourdough bread. My mom had acquired a starter, which she kept going for more than 30 years. Which, if you think about it, is pretty darn amazing.
Along the way, she’d give each of us (my brothers and me) a start from it. Somehow I never developed her passion for keeping it alive and after using it regularly for a month or two, I’d shove the jar to the back of the fridge and forget about it. I’d throw it out and after awhile, beg for some more.
About five years ago, Mother had to pitch her own. It was a sad, sad day, but she bravely started a new batch. On a happier note, my brother, John, still uses the starter that she gave him long ago…and he makes REALLY good bread. I think it’s his French connection (he has a PhD in French and has lived there several times).
Last fall, having come through the summer from hell, I decided it was high time to start my own starter from scratch. Which I did, after consulting cookbooks and the Internet. I followed the instructions more or less exactly (probably less), and after the initial period of fermentation, tested it. The bread turned out good, but not sour. See, in my mind, sour is sour. Very sour.
I tried it a few more times, and once again, the jar found its way to the back of the shelf. But last week I happened upon an old episode of the Splendid Table, in which Lynne Rossetto Kasper answered a caller’s question about souring her sourdough starter. Bolstered by my new knowledge, I pulled out my own starter which — in true fashion of sourdough starter — had turned black on top. No matter. I stirred it well, dumped it into a bowl, fed it some water and flour, covered it and left it to its own devices. Each day I stirred it, said a few kind, soothing words to it, and covered it again.
Last night, our friend, Reema, was visiting, and we wanted to prove to her that we REALLY DO THINGS ON FRIDAY NIGHTS. She swigged some wine while we divied up the starter — enough for a batch of bread and enough to return to the fridge. She was impressed. Either that, or she’d had more wine than we thought.
I have to admit, Fred’s seven-grain whole wheat sourdough bread was impressive. It looked great. Tasted great. Except it wasn’t very sour. Maybe I should have taken up Mary Ring’s offer of a bottle of beer. Not to drink. To add to the bread.
When it comes to sourdough…never give up. We’ll keep working on this starter…even if it takes us another 30 years.