I can’t be the only person who talks to their Sourdough starter. I created mine with lazy indifference, not the rustic fascination and ceremony it deserved. When I imagine the birth of a starter I think of Kilner jars, sacks of flour and early 19th century rural France, not an Edmonds flour bag and some Tupperware. In my wildest of fantasies I would be apprentice to an old, grumpy French baker who would slowly and begrudgingly teach me the ways of the baking world; conveying to me the knowledge that was kept only in his head. He would grow to love me like the child he could never have and would, upon his death bed, shakily clasp my hands around the glass jar of his sourdough starter, centuries old and the sire of a thousand, tangy loaves, and would tell me that his legacy is now my responsibility…
Alas, my Sourdough starter and I have had a rocky beginning. As if it were a baby I was scared, at first, to even touch it lest I damage it. I would fuss about it being too hot, too cold. I would feed it and water it regularly, prodding it, sniffing it and leaving it on the kitchen counter for all eyes to see. When the time came for me to eagerly make my first loaf I looked at the hard, sunken disc I had produced in confusion; how could my own starter do this to me? How could hours of proving and kneading result in something so average? I could barely detect its promised sour taste.
After this the relationship deteriorated and the neglect began. I forgot to feed it for several days, the Internet had told me that after the fifth day it should only need ‘feeding’ once or twice a week. A strange brown liquid began to form on the top of it, I looked away, too irresponsible to face my errors, it was probably too late anyway; I’d make another one another time. A tentative sniff suggested alcohol, the Internet told me this was because it was hungry. I fed it some flour, it looked sickly. “Survival of the fittest”, I thought, “If this life form cannot recover from this on its own it will always be weak, lacking in character.” I had to stand back and let it pull through. I began to keep it in the fridge. It looked paler, thicker and bubbly with a pleasing, sour aroma. Before my second loaf I tipped more flour in to feed it and was overcome with tenderness, “There we go sweet thing, how’s that? You hungry?” I cooed. Several hours later it was room temperature and bubbling with activity, clearly it was in need of some kind words. I mixed it with flour and water and waited 15 hours before baking it. With no banneton I decided to prove and bake in a glass loaf tin to encourage upward rising and prevent spreading, a Dutch oven ensured a sharply crackling crust.
What I removed from the oven was a golden crusted, dense but spongy, brick of homely perfection. The texture, so typically sourdough was springy, resistant but fudgy with chew. The most wonderful aspect of this loaf, however, was the undeniably sour tang. I felt something stir as I wallowed in the sharp notes at the back of my tongue; this was the taste of MY starter, no two are the same. This flavour was evidence of the life that I had manufactured, thriving and bubbling and zesty with vigour. It might seem unreasonable to become emotional about bread but in this instance I felt positively maternal.