May 22-27, 2006
After being assured that it was not cheating to order sourdough starter instead of making my own, I ordered two different starters from sourdo.com .
I was very taken with the description of a New Zealand sourdough which a woman named Christy Dowling "captured" in Rotorua. I got a mental picture of a woman in a bonnet and a butterfly net scampering through fields trying to capture this culture. I also liked this one because it was supposed to be easy for beginners. And if I ordered the Rotorua sourdough, I also got another New Zealand culture--one for rye breads.
When I got the packages in the mail, I decided I shouldn't have worried about cheating. I had somehow thought that the cultures would arrive all ready to put in my mixing bowl and they'd activate automatically. But they're dried, and they have to be activated and fed with flour and water, just as if you were making your own.
I managed to lose the directions that came with the yeast, but the people at sourdo.com emailed me an abbreviated set, and I got more on the internet. The instructions are basically to add water and flour at certain intervals until it's bubbly and ready. What "ready" means is not totally obvious to a novice, but at some point, I decided it was ready enough, and then I could switch over to Rose's sourdough rye recipe, which has much more detailed instructions.
As I fed the starter, I didn't feel entirely comfortable with the whole process. It smelled a little weird, for one thing, and I didn't know if I'd be able to smell the difference between a normal tangy smell and a rotten bacteria-ridden one. As I was fretting about this at work, my friend Susan asked me if I'd ever heard of anyone dying from bad sourdough. I admitted that I hadn't, and feeling that I wasn't going to kill off my entire family with bad sourdough comforted me quite a bit.
Finally, on Thursday night I gave the starter its first and second feedings (it really does have a voracious appetite; it reminds me of Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors) and put it in the refrigerator overnight.
On Friday, I came home early from work hoping to turn out a loaf of bread for dinner. Oh, but I should have read more carefully. The recipe calls for mixing the dough, followed by a one-hour rise, followed by another one-hour rise, followed by a 3-5 hour rise, followed by another 3-5 hour rise, followed by baking. Rough calculation--I should be able to take the bread out of the oven around 3:00 a.m. Fortunately, Little Audrey turned out to be downright fervent about expanding, and she doubled in less time than she was supposed to, so I was able to put her in the oven around 10:00. (That is, I put IT in the oven, not her.) And it was done about 45 minutes later. (Yes, there was a time in my life when Friday nights meant something other than bake bread and try to go to bed early. But for everything there is a season, and this is my bread-baking season).
I couldn't wrap it up because it was still hot, and I was afraid that if I left it in the kitchen, it would be nibbled on by mice during the night. Jim pointed out, logically enough, that we didn't have mice. Still, once I'd thought of the possibility of hungry mice partying on the bread it had taken me a week to make, I couldn't just ignore it, so I brought the bread up to our bedroom, where it would be safe.
When I woke up, I knew that I was going to be able to eat sourdough rye for breakfast. I rounded it off with vanilla yogurt and blueberries, orange juice, and good, strong coffee. This is a bread was worth waiting for. It's chewy and flavorful and not too sour for my taste.
It made a big loaf of bread, so I gave half of it to our neighbors who love rye bread and told them to compare it to the original caraway rye bread I gave them a few months ago. Next to baking the bread and eating it yourself, sharing it is very satisfying.
Here's my question, though: I have two jars of starter left in the refrigerator. Do I have to keep feeding at least one of them to the end of time? Is once a week enough?