In the last month, I’ve come a full circle as far as my feelings about sourdough bread are concerned. In this time of quarantine and lockdown, I’ve been spending a little more time on social media than usual and one thing has been common in the feeds of my food fanatic friends and that is photos of them boasting about their loaves of homemade sourdough. Almost annoyed, I have been brushing this off by calling this a fad that will flatten like the froth on some fancy coffee 👀.
Recently despite my attempts to stay away from the grocery stores, I have had to make an occasional trip to pick up some essentials. I’m not much of a baker and I’ve never spent much time in the baking aisle but in the last few weeks whenever in the store and I passed through that aisle I did notice the continued scarcity of flour, sugar, and yeast and that would aggravate me further. I thought to myself damn those sourdough bakers!
Two weeks ago a close friend of mine sent me a photo of her sourdough starter and a day later, the fresh loaf that she had baked and that’s when I gave up thought to myself, OK! I have to see what the fuss is all about and try this for myself. Was I just subconsciously ignoring it because I was afraid of failing at it, considering the complexity and commitment needed for this whole process. It took me a while on multiple grocery store websites looking for decent bread flour. Boy was that a disappointment! First, sanitizer then TP and now the humble AP flour seemed to be joining the league. Warm night of April 22nd is when I started my own sourdough starter. The first two days were pretty uneventful but then day three came! We saw the first few bubbles. I was hooked! Even my wife while she was not really involved in the beginning, started keeping a close eye on the progress of our new pet our new baby. Ok, I think I got carried away there.
Day after day after day, a little more flour a little more water, more flour a little more water, and then hit day seven. I was going to be busy the next day did not have time to take on the task of baking some bread so I used some of that starter to make sourdough pancakes(a combination of the recipe from King Arthur, Brothers Green, and Alex) which turned out amazing, reaffirming that taking on this project was not such a bad idea. The next day we baked our own loaf. That’s an oversimplification of the whole process, the physical and mental workout. Kneading enough to form the protein chains was like doing a fast Crossfit WOD. In the end, the results were beyond my expectation I was amazed at the outcome of investment of time and just flour, water, and a little bit of salt. The moment we took the first bite we realized how wrong I was being a Hater of the herd and calling this “fad” and I realized why does it still excite people even though we’ve been doing this the exact same way for nearly 5000 years.
I have come to an understanding of why this trend of baking sourdough bread is more relevant now than ever especially when we are all in quarantine. Here are the factors, I think are contributing to all the sourdough love:
- Taming the unknown: On one hand, we are being attacked by something invisible and we are locked down because we are afraid of this invisible. When we are able to get our own sourdough starter going, I think we are getting a feeling that we have tamed this other unknown, making us feel that not all that is invisible is there to hurt. Mother nature is on our side also. This is really a #quaranteam in this case, You, yeasts, and Lactobacilli bacteria!
- Create with something so little: The feeling that you can achieve this much out of something so basic in your pantry it gives you a sense of freedom in this strange time of scarcity. People are trying to limit their trips to grocery stores for safety reasons and hence being more mindful of their consumption.
- Sourdough is not industrial: Sourdough baked from a natural leavening agent, distances people from industrial mass-produced ingredients which there are plenty of in our pantries, and due to the current situation the general sentiment is that mass production and industrial farming is what got us in this place.
- Companionship: In the time of social distancing and isolation, maintaining a sourdough starter is like bringing in a new pet in the house. Needs to be fed daily, nurtured, kept warm, and basically not let die! This is adding a new purpose to our day now. A good distraction to have.
- It’s all you: Since you did not start or anywhere in the whole process use any “fancy” ingredients, there is nothing else that can take credit or blame for the masterpiece you have created (well there is Lactobacilli bacteria and yeasts, but you get my point).
From annoyance to hatred to exploration to triumph to explanation and at last this justification. Thats my journey with the humble sourdough in the past month. I am glad I did this. I feel lighter, our starter is safe and healthy and we are calling her Bubbly.
If you have a similar journey you have covered with sourdough or anything else, I want to hear about it. If there is another trend that you cannot make peace with, share it with me. And of course #liftyourloaf and send me a picture.