…But I found that excessive.
I do have a strong desire for a pet. The image in mind, however, has fur and a prominent snout. It would be warm and companionable—and preferably not require a whole lot of training.
None of those criteria was operative here. In fact, the lack of warmth was a particular sticking point, and the fault was decidedly mine.
I’m still reserving judgment whether my initial error was to trust the advice provided by a person (assuming it’s a person) who calls his website “The Clever Carrot”—heretofore known for our purposes as “TCC.”
TCC was showing me that the right kind of bacteria is my friend. I know that’s true, but I’m not sure they warrant a name other than Lactobacilli.
Perhaps I should back up for the sake of clarity.
In my quest for healthier eating, I’ve been avoiding processed foods. But on the low fat, low sugar diet intended to prevent my blood sugar’s propensity to increase, I seem to be sort of, well, disappearing. The incredible shrinking blogger.
So homemade bread seemed to be an idea worth trying. And my spouse found that sour dough bread is especially healthful. Voila! I’ll make my own whole wheat sourdough bread—starting with the sourdough starter.
Of course I could have ordered the starter online, but what fun would that be? And doing so doesn’t fit my new purity obsession. I want to control the processing process.
I discovered from a year-old article in Discover (appropriately enough) that our forebakers were making sourdough bread some 14,000 years ago. Using a well-worn tradition, archeologists fairly recently followed the bread crumbs and found burnt pieces near a hearth in Jordan.
These were apparently left by an untidy tribe of hunter-gatherers—a full 4,000 years before the advent of agriculture. They spent enough time away from the hunt to mix the flour and water, watch the bubbles rise, and save some for the next go round.
I also learned from that article that I’d stumbled into “The Wild Sourdough Project,” which gained attention during the pandemic and “aims to advance our understanding of yeast and microbes while helping home bakers create delicious bread.”
So I have backup for my TCC tutor.
It was Louis Pasteur who demonstrated that microbes were responsible for the fermentation. But, wrote Eric Weeks and Patricia Gadsby in a much older Discover article (2003), that discovery (in the mid-1800s) eventually led to baker’s yeast (Saccaromyces cerevisiae), which makes quick, reliable dough. Supermarket bread has 25 ingredients and additives—not what I was after.
In sourdough bread, the product of wild yeasts and bacteria similar to those that transform milk into cheese and yogurt, there are way more Lactobacilli than yeasts (100 to one, according to a researcher quoted by Weeks and Gadsby).
Where do these wild characters come from?
“An ecosystem begins to form as flour mixes with water to make a starter dough. Enzymes in the flour split starches into sugars. There are swarms of yeasts and bacteria everywhere—in the flour, in the environment, and on the baker,” say Weeks and Gadsby. They gang up on the sugars, but the “bread friendly” ones will prevail.
Then the Lactobacilli convert the sugars into lactic and acetic acid as the dough sours. The yeasts that are still going convert the sugars into ethanol (!) and carbon dioxide. At that point, the starter is ready to use to bake the bread.
Ok. I turned to TCC to show me the way, step-by-step. Easy peasy.
Day One: Mix 1/2 cup flour with 1/4 cup warm water. Stir with a fork.
Day Two: Let the mixture sit. Ah: I saw some bubbles! This is exciting!
Day Three: Remove half the mixture and discard. (I subsequently saw TCC’s guidance that you don’t actually need to discard—you can use the stuff later in baking; he even provides recipes. Wish I’d seen that earlier…) Add a fresh 1/2 cup flour with 1/4 cup warm water.
Days Four through Seven: Repeat.
Oh, my. On Day Four, there was a noticeable absence of activity in the culture. No bubbles, no fruity aroma.
Discussion with spouse yielded the determination that the site I’d selected was clearly not conducive to allowing the mixture to work its magic. That lack of warmth I mentioned earlier? We believe that was the culprit.
So we stopped the starter. We discarded what remained into a bowl that will be refrigerated until the second, surely successful effort, is complete.
I/we (my spouse used to bake bread, and I assume he’ll want to get his hands into this process, which is fine) will then use it after our first, surely magnificent, nutritious, and weight-adding sourdough bread has been consumed.
“Keeping a sourdough culture alive requires good time management and something like affection,” observe Weeks and Gadsby. “Cultures are dynamic. Mess with their living conditions—room temperature, mealtime, brand of flour offered—and they will change.”
I’m now convinced that The Clever Carrot knew whereof he spoke about that naming process. Once I find a nice warm spot for the second try, I’ll come up with a name so there’s no question about the breadth of my affection.
Note: The 2003 Discover article was actually focused on San Francisco sourdough bread, which is apparently so famous that there’s a bacterium named L. sanfranciscensis, “a species never found in nature before.”
Two microbiologists sought to “solve the mystery of San Francisco sourdough” more than 50 years ago because of its purportedly unique status. San Francisco bakers claimed that when bakers any distance from their city used the dough, it became less sour.
Weeks and Gadsby had asked one of the scientists if the dough was/is “truly unique.”
His response, given with a laugh: “It’s hard to say.”
Yes, my sourdough starter deserves a name. I haven’t even nurtured it into existence yet, and it’s already expanded my world. I’m simply bubbling with enthusiasm!
All suggestions for names for our resident Lactobacilli factory are warmly encouraged.