He belches, wakes in a shallow pool of of grain alcohol, emits spores of natural yeast and his coloring reminds me of flaccid pastry cream, or buttermilk that has turned. My sallow prince. Some mornings he rises to greet me. Others he stays slumped where I left him. He doesn't care to go anywhere. I've been showing him off like he's some fancy Big Town Blue Ribbon Winner, a high school Quarterback. After a meal, he slaps my haunches and makes me put on a mascot uniform we bought off of Craigslist. Then we run drills from his Glory Days. Later, I rub him down with a salve of rendered bacon fat and pine sap.
Carl is my new Life Partner. He is my Sourdough starter.
Remember when your Mom or Dad, Grandma or Mrs. Doubtfire would come home with a ziploc bag in one hand, their eyes stricken with bewilderment, fear? Somehow, between arriving to pick you up from Girl Scouts and getting you in the car, they'd been blindsided. "Amish Friendship Bread," They'd say, when asked what the creamy sludge was, why Tiffany's Mom was handing out what seemed like fifty bags, one to every parent, teacher, Janitor. No doubt they whispered "Thanks, PAM," under their breath, thinking something hateful about Pam, her kind ways, her yeasty benevolance.
I remember that stuff as smelling sweet and inoffensive. Milky. Like a baby. Maybe not like a baby. The scent easily lead you towards the idea of bread. My mom never made it. She threw those bags into the trash, her eyes narrow and determined not to let a loaf of the Buttonless People's bread into our lives. Pam was none the wiser.
And here I am, 20 years later, staring this mess on purpose.
Sourdough starter is something I'm new to, something I share no regal lineage with. There's no Gerber baby food jar, handed down to each Grandchild, no scatterings of dried starter that produces the ghost of a Pioneer ancestor and his fiddle upon revival. There is just me, and the Internet. Sourdough starter or 'Breaking Bad'. Choices. We all make them.
But it was one of my goals for this year, to see if I could start a Group Home for wild yeast spores. And now, here's Carl. Who knows if he's in it for the long haul. I'm still only on Day Four, as outlined here - those are the directions I followed, with a few minor modifications:
- I used Whole Wheat Pastry flour (hence the tan specks in the mixture) to start with and for the first feeding, because I had it. Subsequent feedings have used All-Purpose white flour.
- This isn't a modification, but I used pineapple juice drained off a can of chunks, buried in the back of my pantry. Just fine. So many sites pointed out that water, that has aerated for a bit or been distilled, worked fine for the Ingalls, it'll be just fine for you.
- Carl secretes a lot of Hooch in the night. A thin, clear layer of potent alcohol is often floating on top of my starter each morning, but that is normal. Just stir it in, calm him down. Again, other sites mentioned pouring it off if it smells obscene or is dark and murky. And hooch means he's hungry. So order him a grand slam, and feed him an extra Tablespoon or so of flour, until he goes to sleep.
- I do not plan on dividing/tossing my starter, once I need to - I'd like to be able to make something from it right away, and dry/freeze some, as an insurance policy. Because of this, I started it in a large Pyrex jug. When I noticed I had a cup of starter, I added one cup of flour and one cup of water, to continue with the 100% hydration formula I'd started mine with. Worried that this turned the whole thing pear-shaped, I baled out a 1/4 cup, added it to a clean, smaller jar along with 1/4 cup each of AP flour and water. The smaller, offshoot batch was tented with a coffee filter, and is bubbling away happily. It served as model for the photos above.
- Everyone will talk a big game about your starter becoming so overwhelmingly intense it crosses State lines/violates Parol. Mine just bubbles happily, resumes bubbling seconds after I cease stirring, and stays within city limits. This, according to obsessive Google research, is just fine. You just want to see some steady action.
We'll see where it goes. By this time next year, I could be rasing Pitbull-Pomeranian crosses in the backyard of the abandoned Construction office Carl stole in the middle of the night. We could have gotten married. He could have left me. He could have deflated, under the weight of my QVC addiction. Or we could be making the prettiest loaves this side of the tracks. He might wear me out. In which case, I'll send him your way - lift your face and inhale, sniffing for hint of yeast and fruity alcohol by-product, and listen for the sounds of Ratt.
Tell me your tricks and tips, your Sourdough Romances. I'd love to hear them, or about any endeavors the new year (I hope this is the best one yet, for you) has spurred. Next up, vanilla extract, aka Carl's Brother, Tank.