Little Yellow Farmhouse: Refreshing the Starter


During my time in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a dear friend gifted me with a jar of sourdough starter. This magic beast is a jar full of a simple dough teeming with wild yeast. Starter forms the basis of sourdough bread (and pancakes and biscuits and rolls), and can be used exclusively as the rising agent. My friend told me the starter had been in his family for over a hundred years. I cherish it and share it and brag about the sturdy nature of this mountain sourdough. If you don’t use it regularly, you can even freeze it. That’s where I started as I made my move across the country.

Back in October, we climbed into our vehicles with two cats, two dogs, and my sourdough starter firmly lodged in the little car-powered cooler we purchased just for this purpose.

Four full days and three nights of cross-country neglect worried me. I gave it all the chances I could by freezing it solid. Now all we had to do was hit the timeline.

When we arrived in Asheville on the fourth day, we unpacked the cooler into my mother-in-law’s refrigerator and the starter went to the back. Melted, a thick layer of liquid lay on the top of the simple dough.

The week after we arrived, I took an emotional trip with my mother to visit relatives in Arkansas. The starter languished, waiting for my return.

The morning my mother left me in Asheville, I walked the dogs, had my tea, and, when my sweetie asked me to go out with her and her mother to do a little shopping, I collapsed onto the bed.

“No. No, I can’t.” I cried into the mattress.

“What’s wrong?” Bewildered, she sat down.

I choked the words out between sobs. “I just…I know…I want to go home. I know. I know it’s not our home anymore. I just…I can’t help it. I want to sit in my chair and knit and watch television and be alone in our house. It’s crazy. I’m crazy. I know. I’m so tired.”

I had broken. I could feel it. She could feel it. “Oh honey. I know. I miss it too. We’re only here for a little while.”

Sniffling now, I sat up. Speaking the words had drained the power of them out of me. Now, I could begin to pick up the pieces and glue them back together.

“Can we make the bed?”

“I don’t think so.” I climbed under the covers and pulled them up around me. “Go. You go and I’ll see you when you get back. I’m okay.” I managed to say between sobs.

Eventually, I pulled myself out of bed and walked to the couch. There, I sat.

No knitting.

No anything.

I sat and I stared.

Occasionally, I ate something.

I napped in the afternoon.

This nothing went on for a couple of days. After the first outburst, I knew I couldn’t push myself. I resolved to only do what I needed to do.

My sweetie mentioned the sourdough starter needed some love after our cross-country slog. Refreshing the starter daunted me, but I needed to complete the process. With the life of those little microbes in my mind, I asked her to pick up a bag of all-purpose flour from the store.

I cared about the microbes, but not enough to leave the house.

On Monday, I opened the jar of starter and poured it into a bowl, scraping out all of the dough. I added a cup of flour and a cup of water and then mixed it all together. As bubbles began to form, my heart sent out a single zip of joy. Those little microbes had survived the journey.

Starter

Over the next three days, I started my morning by pouring half of the whole bowl of starter down the drain and then adding another cup of flour and another cup of water. This process refreshes the starter, lightening the taste by clearing out the ick and giving the wee beasties new good food to process. Each day, the dough produced more and more bubbles. By the fourth day, the starter thrived – perfect for baking bread.

Without my regular recipe (trapped in a computer somewhere in our pile of boxes), I found a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website. Using it as a guideline, I created a couple of loaves. The picture skipped across the internet back to Steamboat.

First Loaves of Sourdough

The sourdough starter had survived the journey, I declared in my post.

And so, I whispered to myself as I hit publish, had I.

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