I do not bake beautiful bread. My loaves, before baking and after, are not “Instagram worthy.” Artfully arranged slashes, interesting shapes, and vegetation don’t make an appearance in my bread-baking process.
During the pandemic, Instagram burst with beautiful loaves, before and after pictures of yeasty art. When I needed a break from outrage about the political shitshow, scrolling #sourdough delighted me with inventive shapes and colors. Jealousy warred with admiration of the perfect displays.
My bread is tasty and nutritious, and an intrinsic part of my life. Once every two weeks, I pull a sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and bake two loaves of bread for our household. Those loaves are sturdy and practical, used for slices fresh from the oven with soft butter, french toast on the weekends, and gifting occasional chunks to my mother-in-law. We average eating a loaf a week. Steph stays away from the carbs(!), so the french toast is (usually) all mine.
Indulging in french toast on the weekend also started during the pandemic.
Along with a flour and then yeast shortage.
When the yeast disappeared from the shelves of the grocery stores, I felt the call of every superhero. Time to save the planet!
Or, at least, my little corner of the planet!
Or, at least, those folks who didn’t have a friend with a sourdough starter.
Yep. All of those baking newbies who’d bought ALL the flour now needed yeast.
JUST because they got stuck at home with NOTHING BETTER TO DO, they began baking and hoarding flour. FLOUR! Making life hard for all of us who regularly baked bread! Who do it because we LOVED BAKING FIRST! NOT because we were BORED! WHY am I searching for the flour I NEED to bake the bread to feed my family LIKE USUAL just so you can PLAY Holly Homesteader with your fancy new bread machine you bought online YESTERDAY?!?!
Excuse me. That just slipped out. It happens when your filter gets flushed away by menopausal hot flashes.
Because *I* am a GOOD and KIND person who doesn’t HOARD NECESSITIES, I took pity on these yeastless newbies.
I’d been looking for a way to help as the pandemic crept across the country. With little time, less money, and a wife who ticked off way too many of the boxes in the vulnerable population, I couldn’t see a way.
But now. Now, I had yeast.
More specifically, I had my hundred-year-old Colorado sourdough starter.
When I first received the starter from a young friend (he knew I baked bread and wouldn’t I just love to have some?), I smiled brightly and thought, “God! Another thing to keep alive.”
Over the years, the starter and I became friends. Her name is “Bubbles.”
Don’t blame me for the bad pun! She named herself.
She shares her yeast with me and stays alive despite my occasional lapses in regular feeding. Her resilience comes from the fact that she was born in Rocky Mountains and her ability to hibernate in the freezer for months. That’s how she got across the country with me from Colorado, frozen solid and transferred to our most valiant portable cooler just before pulling away from our old home. For four days, she slowly defrosted as we drove. Upon arrival, I revived her and proudly displayed a picture of the first North Carolina loaf on social media.
During the time right after Stephanie’s stroke, Bubbles aided and abetted my anger. Slamming dough against the counter released the fury at this new twist my life had taken. Smelling the bread baking and then consuming slices of the fresh hot loaf comforted me.
In happier times, she experimented with me. We created dinner rolls and pizza crust together. Each time I pull up another sourdough recipe on the internet, her soul perches on my shoulder and gives me encouragement.
Bubbles is my baking soul mate. She’s my special girl.
And she could help all of these yeastless people.
So we began to divide.
By feeding Bubbles generous amounts of flour and water, I could share two to four cups of starter a day. I discovered a stash of low quality, enriched, bleached flour that would be okay for this process at my local discount market. Not my favorite, but I was begging so I couldn’t choose.
I posted a picture of Bubbles on the internet and wrote “Hey everyone! This is Bubbles, my 100 year old sourdough starter. If you are looking for a bread-baking adventure with wild yeast, she can give you a good time. Hit me up and I’ll hook you up.”
And the people showed up with polite requests for a share and instructions.
I fed Bubbles twice a day, and she produced like a champion!
The thing about yeast is that, once you get a happy little colony going and keep feeding it, there’s not a lot you can do to stop them. They just keep feeding and multiplying and making new yeasty-beasties and producing the gas that makes all those bubbles.
Yeast and love have a lot in common.
For several days, I gathered little groups in my local supermarket parking lot, doling out small containers to masked people. They would park and call out from behind their doors, “Are you the sourdough lady?” Each container got wiped down with disinfectant wipes before being handed over. We all smiled with our eyes.
I like to think it looked like the world’s oddest drug deal.
While Bubbles procreated, I unearthed my feeding, proofing, and baking instructions from the depths of my computer. Written years before when I’d last had a request to share my starter, everyone received them touchlessly via Facebook message or texted to their phone. Several of these adventurous bakers zipped back home and jumped into the adventure. Some people even shared images of their new loaves with me.
Bubbles and I showed them off to our friends.
Together, we may not make beautiful loaves, but we do create a lovely harmony.