Over the past couple of months, I’ve sent out dozens of packets of sourdough starter (the last two I had in the fridge went out today).
Some of the folks who receive them might never get around to using them, others will revive their starter, bake a few loaves, then decide it’s not really for them. And you know what? That’s completely fine. I’m very unprecious about Priscilla – she was sent out as a gift with no strings attached whatsoever.
But for some, the little bag of starter has proven to be a tiny satchel of magic. They begin like everyone else – waking up the wild yeasts, feeding them and watching them bubble, then baking their first loaf. It might not be perfect, but it’s proof of concept, and they’re inspired to try again. Then they’ll bake a second loaf, changing the recipe or methodology just a little bit along the way. By the third loaf, they’re off – they’ve studied books and blogs, experimented with overnight or cold proving, fiddled with hydration levels and bake times, and started adding their starter’s name to birthday cards. They’ve been bitten by the bread equivalent of Peter Parker’s radioactive spider.
With every success or failure, they learn a bit more. Their friends and family get caught up in the excitement, eat far more bread than is recommended by national guidelines, and provide often unsolicited feedback. Slowly, their superpower builds. Almost magically, they can now turn flour and water into food. And they think…just look at what I’ve made! I never thought I could do that. I wonder what else I can do?
A couple of friends have said to me, “you must be so proud of how far Priscilla has spread!” It’s hard to explain, but it’s not really pride that I feel. I know Priscilla is a fabulous starter, and I’m pretty confident most people will be able to make a successful loaf with her, but all I’m doing is sending a few dried flakes and a recipe out in the mail. I’m not making the dough, I’m not even really in the kitchen to talk anyone through the process. So pride is the wrong word.
What I feel is enormous joy at being able to pass on a tiny gift which empowers people. Empowers them to feel good about themselves, knowing they can achieve something they’d previously not thought possible. And along the way, we’re building a worldwide community of excited bakers. It’s been unbelievably satisfying.
I’ve watched Selma go from a perfect first loaf to sharing her starter Twinkle with half a dozen friends across Europe, who in turn have baked their own perfect loaves.
Selma’s Cinnamon Sourdough Fruit Loaf
Annie’s breadmaking skills have developed so rapidly that not only is she distributing loaves to everyone she knows, she’s now teaching others to bake as well.
Annie’s loaves have very sexy curves!
If a text message could squeal with joy, then my old friend Mary’s did at 5am on Saturday morning when she baked her first loaf. Her daughter Polyxeni has become an expert baker overnight, producing loaves that look like they’ve come straight out of an artisan bakery. Things are getting just a little bit competitive in their kitchen…
This was the photo Mary sent me on Saturday morning. I was squealing too!
Polyxeni told me that she is never ever buying bread again…
The stories are too numerous to recount and coming in from all around the globe – Manuela is baking the most amazing bread in a remote part of Canada where bison roam freely. She baked her first loaf one morning, knotted rolls that afternoon, and a second round of loaves in the evening. All on the first day.
Manuela’s wholemeal sourdough loaf has delighted her hubby!
It’s amazing to think we’re baking with related starters all around the world!
Tandy’s starter Cordelia has been living happily in her South African kitchen for a couple of years now, providing enormous satisfaction on a weekly basis…
Tandy’s overnight loaf recipe is on her blog now!
Nancy and Jen in Shanghai are as excited as teenagers over their starters and are now happily sharing them across China. They’ve produced stunning loaves under tricky conditions, wrapping dough in blankets and proving them in bathtubs…
Nancy’s second loaf was even better than her first!
Every loaf of sourdough bread is unique. The discovery of bakers’ yeast in the late 1800s led to large scale bread production because it enabled bakers to replicate results consistently enough to produce commercial quantities. Sourdough is quite the opposite of that – each loaf is slightly different and results can vary on any given day.
More importantly, every baker owns their process. They might start with a given recipe, but by about the third loaf, that’s been tweaked and changed, personalised to the kitchen they’re in and the hands working the dough. I love that. It’s why I ask folks to rename their starter when it arrives – because it’s their starter in their kitchen, and it’s heading off on a brand new sourdough journey.
To everyone out there who has a Priscilla offspring, thank you for sharing your baking adventures with us. It’s been more rewarding that you can possibly imagine!
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Actively Seeking Enthusiasms
Sharing the Sourdough Love