Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sourdough? That is the Story.

Way back when, I wrote a column called "Panhandle Polly" for the American Sportsman Magazine. Knowing nothing about sourdough, I asked my readers for recipes. So many responses came in, I was overwhelmed. Certainly sparked a life-long interest in sourdough stories and recipes.

Although some form of wild yeast leavening has been around for a long time, it is the Alaska sourdough pancakes or the San Francisco sourdough bread that most people talk about. Have you heard how the Alaska sourdough got started?

Picture a burro loaded with traps, mining equipment, pick axe, pot/pans, coats, tents, food. Old grizzled man standing in front of his crude log cabin in the deep forest. Off they go, not only in search of gold, but to trap beaver, fox or whatever finds their way to him. With one last look behind to make everything is secure, he heads out knowing he wont be back for at least a month.

It's a good trip for trapping, but no luck with gold. The money from the fur pelts, however, will carry the man through the rest of the year. Finally back home. He hurries in and builds the fire. As the cabin warms up, he's thinking about making a hard bread biscuit. Opening up the flour barrel, he found a puddle of bubbling goo in the middle. The roof had leaked and water had dripped onto the flour while he was gone. As he scooped up the mess to throw it out, he was struck by the wonderful yeasty smell. Hmm.

The trash missed out, for he put that bubbling mass into a bowl, added a part of it to more flour, and left it to rise overnight. In the morning, after several hours of unpacking, putting things away, gathering firewood, he checked the dough. Wow, the dough had double in bulk. He punched it down again arranged small rounds of dough in his Dutch oven to rise again. Can't you just see the excitement in his eyes and his mouth watering at the thought of a light yeast bread?

Putting the cast iron pot on the morning coals and adding more coals on top of the lid, he waited as the smell of fresh baked bread permeated the room. Thus the first sourdough starter was born.

My high school friend, Kathleen Hall, told me that she makes sourdough bread, or did until her husband thought it smelled bad and threw it out. She hasn't made any starters since.

Sourdough pancakes are the lightest, airiest ones you'll ever eat. After adding eggs, salt and a little sugar to the a couple of cups of starter, turn on your griddle and wait until it is hot. Then at the last minute add the soda to the sourdough pancake mixture. Once that soda hits, a chemical reaction occurs. In just a few minutes, it will bubble furiously and increase to twice its size. Then and only then do you pour half-dollar size dollops onto your griddle. They cook fast, so don't go far.

Dab of butter, maple syrup, and be surprised how many you eat.

Hey, I make a killer sourdough chocolate cake that you eat warm with butter instead of icing. It is soooo good. Want the recipe? Just ask.

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