We will begin a series of sourdough stories wherein we highlight the oral history that accompanies many different sourdough starters. For many, this starter becomes a part of the family. It requires a place to go and be fed when its humans are away; be it a family member, house sitter or a sourdough hotel. Some feel a connection to past generations through the taste, method and baking; breaking bread that was passed down generations, traveled across countries and tested through time.
When Patty Ellis happened upon her mother’s old bread bowl in the cupboard, she was reminded of her family’s history with sourdough bread. She grabbed her mother’s recipe box and found her sourdough notes and, quite literally, restarted the tradition.
Lea: What is it about sourdough that connects you so closely to your family?
Patty: My brother brought my mom some starter from San Francisco. It was her baby. She fed it religiously. We decided that she needed a special bread bowl so all four of us kids chipped in and my older brother bought the bowl. I believe it was a Mason Cash and it was the biggest bowl I had ever seen. I wish it stayed in the family after she passed but that wasn’t to be. Recently, I decided to follow in her footsteps and try my hand at sourdough. I did find her sourdough notes in her recipe file and I have those hanging in my kitchen.
How did you decide to make a sourdough starter?
I had been making Artisan bread for a while and decided to try sourdough. If mom could do it, so could I. I looked up directions on the Internet and started from there. Basic flour and water for my starter, no juices or anything fancy. Lots of feeding (it took me awhile to realize I had to discard some before it took over the house.) I’m pretty happy with the way she turned out.
If mom could do it, so could I.
Does your starter have a name?
I just refer to her as “the Original.” My daughter got me three different dry starters for my birthday, but I’ve only tried the one from San Francisco. That one is called “SF”. It’s not as good as “the Original.”
Does your starter have a personality?
Well, she does let me know when she needs to be fed. But other than that, no.
How did you start it?
I did a lot of research online and was totally overwhelmed by all the information on starting a starter so I went with the easiest. Flour, water, feeding twice a day, keeping her in a nice spot in the kitchen until I really loved the way she smelled. Then started baking. Waiting for her to be ready was the hardest part of the whole process.
Header images, “Before, During and After feeding” used with permission from Patty Ellis (2016).