My vegetable garden isn’t my only obsession right now; I’ve also somehow ended up with two different (but amazing!) sourdough cultures that I’ve been playing with lately. The first one, on the left, is a culture I started in January by mixing flour and water together and letting whatever yeast happened to float in from my kitchen. It took a bit of patience, but I’ve ended up with a culture that’s got an incredible flavour, even if it’s not the highest rising.
(I can’t tell you how freaky it is that if you let the right mixture of things just sit around and fester that you can end up with an amazing/delicious sourdough culture instead of salmonella, mold and toxic death.)
The second culture, on the right of the above photo, is from a friend. As you can tell from its tan, it’s from Hawaii. (Actually, it started off darker because it was a whole wheat culture, but I’ve switched it over to an all white flour diet.) This culture apparently got its start from some yeast on an avocado tree. Like the other culture, it also makes tasty bread; it also happens to be incredibly vigorous. Every time I get close by with a bag of flour, I can hear it whispering… “Feed me, Seymour!” I sure hope it’s flour it wants, not “just a drop”. I’m sure one morning I’ll wake up and find it nibbling on my toes.
For those of you unfamiliar with sourdough cultures, the basic idea is that you have this jar of flour and water in which both yeast and a particular bacteria happily live in. Those guests gradually eat the flour and turn it into carbon dioxide, alcohol (often called “hooch”), a tangy acid (hence the name “sourdough”) and a bunch of other complex things.
The two key things for baking are the flavours that come from the acid the bacteria makes and the bubbles that come from the carbon dioxide that the yeast produces, making the bread dough “rise”. I could just use the dried yeast you get in the jars at the store; it would still produce the bubbles to rise my dough, but it wouldn’t have the same fantastic and complex flavours. There’s also something really cool about having a jar of living stuff that needs your occasional attention to survive and thrive. No wonder so many people with sourdough cultures refer to it as one of their pets.
And like an unspayed pet, both cultures are multiplying at an amazing rate. If you’d like a little bit of one of these cultures, let me know; I’d love to share my experiment with others.