The bread I had for supper was over forty years old and still moist and delicious. The sourdough starter that I used to make it was given to me by my dear friend Lucy, who brought it to Virginia with her in 1978. She doesn’t know how old her starter was because it was given to her by a friend who may have gotten it from another friend and so on. I like to imagine that perhaps there are some pioneer bacteria quietly exhaling CO2 into the jar where they rest in my fridge.
I had never tried to make bread with sourdough starter before Lucy graced me with a jar and at first I was a little nervous. I didn’t want to be the person who let the legacy expire. But it turns out that sourdough critters are very forgiving. They languish in my fridge for up to a week at a time requiring nothing from me at all. On Friday nights, I take them out, feed them a little flour and water, and let them warm to room temperature until they are waltzing with the wild yeasts that live among them and pumping up their respiration a bit. In return for the favor, they raise my sponge ( a technical bread term for the bowl of warm fermenting batter). The beauty of sourdough is that I can let the sponge rise all night. In the morning I add more flour, some oil, salt, sugar and water and knead it to a spankable softness, that slowly burps and gurgles in my big bowl all day until it is double in size. If I’m not ready to bake bread on Saturday night, I just punch it down and let it rise again until Sunday morning when I make fresh rolls for breakfast.
When I first moved to the mountains I really didn’t know much about cooking at all. Determined to impress Joe, I made bread one Saturday afternoon right after we met. While the flour floating around in the air was light and fluffy, my bread was not. I worked for years trying out different recipes and never coming close to the moist, light bread that my mother in law turned out consistently week after week. She didn’t have a recipe because she’d been mixing bread in the same blue enamelware bowl since she was five years old. She just knew when it looked right.
Yeasts are not patient. They rise fast and can overdevelop the gluten in the finished bread product if they aren’t monitored. When I discovered sourdough, I found my missing ingredient. It is slow and patient and very, very forgiving.
Jesus is often referred to as the “bread of life.” I’m sure He must be sourdough.