A little over a year ago I read (and blogged about) Robin Sloan’s Sourdough. One thing I didn’t mention in that post was that I wanted a sourdough starter. I did once own a sourdough starter but the guy who gave it to me neglected to tell me that I had to feed it, although he did send me a recipe for sourdough pancakes. His sourdough (from Alaska) was apparently descended from sourdough starters that the gold rush guys created. Needless to say, the sourdough starter died before I had a chance to use it.
Around Christmastime last year my son, who’d been given a sourdough starter a few weeks earlier, shared some with me and taught me how to feed it. I was hooked. I loved how the regular feedings of flour and water made the starter grow and bubble. I attempted my first couple of loaves of bread using just the nurtured starter. It was delicious, but didn’t rise liked I’d hoped. For my next attempt, I used yeast as well, and it rose beautifully.
I’ve continued to nurture my starter and occasionally bake a loaf of bread or a make pizza crust — which turns out fine, but is a little thick for my tastes.
One thing I didn’t know about sourdough starter is that you must discard all but 4 ounces each time you feed it. I didn’t like that idea — throwing out an organism that I’d nurtured and fed so carefully, so I tried to find ways to use the discard. One way was to make sourdough waffles — which made the fluffiest and most tasty waffles remember having ever eaten.
A month ago I was selected as host for our long-running book group and I chose Sourdough as the book we’d read. When I host book group I always serve food from the book we’ve read — this one was pretty easy. Sourdough! I also decided that I would make enough viable starter so my book group friends could take some home.
Not long after the earlier book group I started collecting the sourdough discard in a separate container than my personal batch. As the month continued I continued to regularly feed my batch, but also fed the discard. It didn’t take too long to have a 7-quart bowl full of sourdough starter sitting on the top shelf of my refrigerator. Not being a wiz in math I was not sure how much I would need for my friends. (duh — 12 4 ounce portions equals a lot less than 7 quarts). I even made a gluten-free starter for my gluten-free book group members.
So what was I going to do with 5 and a half quarts of lethargic sourdough starter? I googled “composting sourdough starter” and discovered that sourdough starter was a great addition to compost so I grabbed my bowl and headed to the compost bin. I opened it, started scraping the starter and saw bubbles form. I absolutely could not throw this living thing into my compost bin. There had to be another way.
So I advertised free sourdough starter on the neighborhood email list:
Fri, Apr 26, 5:39 PM (2 days ago)
I made far too much sourdough starter for my books group (we read Sourdough by Robin Sloan) and before I toss it in my compost bin I thought I would find out if any neighbors were interested in some. It will need to be fed once you get it home.
If so, let me know before Sunday evening.
I received only one response so I knew I needed to go farther afield if I wanted to find a home for more of the starter so I sent the same email to an email list that encompassed our whole zip code. It wasn’t long before I received ten more emails from people wanting sourdough starter. We negotiated pick-up times and people began arriving.
Everyone who has picked up the starter so far has been excited to get it, friendly and talkative. One woman needed assistance up the steps, other people have walked to the house — some with children in tow.
A couple have not responded to emails asking when they plan on coming, so I sent an email saying I was closing up shop at 1:00 pm. Two more will contact me when they get back to town. I have enough left for the stragglers and no-shows if they do still want some.
This has been a fun experience — I am not really surprised that sourdough starter is a prized commodity — I sure wanted some not long ago and apparently it is a big thing with millennials. I rarely meet the neighbors on the 20187 email list, so I am enjoying that aspect of it. Plus my sourdough starter has gone to some good homes. Maybe people will think about meeting me as they feed their starters years from now. Or maybe they will let it die. Either way, it is out of my hands.
And Robin Sloan is who I really have to thank for this week of sharing the starter with friends and neighbors.