The ruminations of an artist on art & quilts, beading, knitting, drawing, painting, printmaking, bookmaking are all my passions, I love to explore creating....

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Traveling Sourdough (and cactus)

I have two living objects that have traveled with me through all my moves and journeys for over 30 years--my sourdough start and my cactus plant. The cactus I bought in tiny Petersburg, Alaska in about 1970 from an itinerant hippie girl who had traveled from Arizona to Alaska--and brought with her from the Arizona desert numerous small cacti to sell. This cactus sports lovely pink blooms in the spring.

The sourdough start was a gift from another Petersburg resident--long dead now---the purple lady--Ruth Sandvik. Ruth was the school librarian and earned her purple lady status by painting her house purple, wearing mostly purple clothes and having a purple car. This particular sourdough is an old Alaskan start--Ruth told me when she gave this sourdough to me that this sourdough came from Nome, Alaska in the 1890's--which makes this sourdough about 118 years old!

When I was growing up we frequently had sourdough pancakes for breakfast--and the big treat was adding tart Alaskan blueberries to the pancakes--and then dousing them in real maple syrup...ummm.

I always save about a cup of starter from each batch of baking--whether I'm making bread or sourdough pancakes. I keep the starter in a glass jar in the fridge.

Old-Fashioned Sourdough Pancakes

The night before remove your 1/2 to 1 cup sourdough start from the fridge, and mix it with about 2 cups warm (lukewarm--not to hot--too hot and you kill the sourdough) water and 2 cups flour---use a ceramic or glass bowl. Mix well and cover the bowl with some plastic wrap and a towel and set it in warm place to work overnight. In the morning, this should be all bubbly and smell like sourdough. To prevent any contamination---I always wash the jar I store the sourdough start in--and then scald it by pouring boiling water over it and the lid. Now remove about 1/2 cup (or more) sourdough and put in the sterelized jar to save for the next time--this is your "start."

to the remaining sourdough add:

1 tablespoons brown sugar or mollases
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt

and mix well. Heat an oiled cast iron skillet--and when the skillet is hot sprinkle
1 teaspoon baking soda over the mixture in the bowl. Only add baking soda to batter just before you are ready to cook the pancakes. Fold gently into the sourdough batter (do not beat). This will cause a gentle foaming and rising action. Let the mixture bubble and foam a minute or two.

Drop batter in your skillet and cook---when the pancake is covered with popped bubbles, turn it to brown the other side. Best served hot with butter and maple syrup or homemade jam.

I try to share my sourdough start with anyone who is interested--since it is a venerable old start which I value---and just in case mine dies for some reason, I can always get it back from someone I shared it with. I am happy to share a start with anyone who is interested--but I am not sure how it would survive getting sent via the mail?? but go ahead and e-mail me, if you are interested in a start and we can perhaps figure out how to send you one.

Sourdough is the oldest form of leavened bread--dating form the Ancient Egyptians. Sourdough was the main bread made in Northern California during the California Gold Rush. The bread became so common that "sourdough" became a general nickname for the gold prospectors.

The sourdough tradition was carried into Alaska and the western Canadian territories during the Klondike Gold Rush. Conventional leavenings such as yeast and baking soda were much less reliable in the conditions faced by the prospectors. Sourdough was an important part of every Alaskan gold rusher's stash---since with a good viable sourdough start and some flour the oldtimer could always have pancakes or leavened bread or biscuits.

The sourdough starter, however, had to be kept warm to survive in the minus zero temperatures of the Alaskan gold fields. Experienced miners and other settlers frequently carried a pouch of starter either around their neck or on a belt and were often fiercely guarded. At night the sourdough start shared their beds so the precious start would not freeze. Old hands came to be called "sourdoughs", a term that is still applied to many elder Alaskans.

For an excellent book on sourdough, with numerous recipes --which do not use any additional yeast, I recommend: Classic Sourdoughs: a Home Bakers Handbook by Ed Wood.


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DAWN said...

Those sour dough pancakes sound smashing!!

freebird said...

That's really neat to have sourdough that old. San Francisco sourdough is famous and 30 years ago I caught some but I don't have it anymore. My husband doesn't care for sourdough and I aimed to please him at the time. Now we each eat what we want!