Meet Betty. Betty is my sourdough starter. What’s unusual about Betty is not that I’ve given a name to a mere concoction of flour and water. Believe it or not, that’s not all that unusual among sourdough enthusiasts.
No, what’s unusual is the existence of Betty at all.
You see, I’m not a baker. I used to bake, back in my hippie back-to-the-lander days, turning out a fair number of cookies, muffins, cupcakes, biscuits, from-scratch pies, and, of course, breads, often with more enthusiasm than skill. Still, the results were mostly edible. Except for the breads, which tended towards the, um, dense-as-a-brick side. I did eventually figure out how to produce a competent enough loaf of something more or less rye-ish and more or less healthy, but it was always a LOT of trouble. Eventually I resigned myself to just not having received the baking gene from my foremothers, and gave up.
But a couple of weeks ago, a friend showed up at a gathering with from-scratch sourdough bread. I was instantly enchanted. It was light and fluffy on the inside, with a crunchy-crackly crust, and so flavourful I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I’m not even that big on breads, in general, but this, this was in a category all its own.
I just had to figure out how to make it myself.
It’s a lot easier than I’d thought. You just combine a few grams of flour and water in a glass container, leave it on the counter and wait. It’s actually kind of like keeping a goldfish — you feed it every day and it burbles at you — but after a week or so, the mixture has transformed magically into something you can use to make amazing bread. It has harvested bacteria and wild yeast from the environment, so you don`t have to use any baker’s yeast. You just mix some starter with more flour and water and a bit of salt. Then you wait. That’s all there is to it. You don’t even have to knead the bread. And even my very first loaf was divine.
And as if that weren’t enough, you can keep your starter going and just keep making more. Some families have had the same starter for generations. You just keep feeding it and it keeps growing.
I didn’t expect to like it so much. It’s meditative and interesting and fun.
What was even more unexpected, though, were the lessons I learned.
Just because it worked once, doesn’t mean it will work the same way again. Ever.
But something will happen. And even if it’s different, it’s just as perfect, in its own way.
Time may not heal all wounds, but it does do some amazing things.
Everything I touch becomes a part of me.