Adventures with Aretha

food

Let’s take a break from this ‘waste not’ challenge, shall we? While this adventure turned out to be pretty waste-free, it started as a desire to make my own, delicious bread. I birthed a sourdough starter. It’s a girl. I named her Aretha.

Aretha is about a week old and she’s feisty and a little stinky, but according to various online sourdough starter troubleshoot forums this is normal. It just needs time.

Aretha is teaching me a lot, especially about fermentation. Whether you know it or not, you love fermented foods. Cheese, buttermilk, beer, bread, wine, basically all things good are fermented. Fermentation lends a funk to food. It’s like the bass line in a seventies jam. It’s funky, and you love it. It’s why tangy pancakes and crusty bread make your heart sing. It’s why you put the pickles on your burger. Trust me, it’s all in the fermentation.

She’s also teaching me about patience. In the week that I’ve had the starter I’ve had to discard a lot in order to allow the yeast to mature and reach a stable, active state. This means I can wake up to a full, bubbly jar of starter only to have to dispose or repurpose half of it. The first time I dumped some starter, I looked at the space in the jar and panicked only a little. Man, I just wanted to make bread. But Aretha told me to stick it out for a little longer. And thank goodness she did.

Now in the week I’ve been growing my baby (too weird?) I’ve made some choices about discard. While the discarded starter would not be able to produce enough rise to make a loaf of bread, the discard does add that funk to a wide range of recipes including sourdough pancakes and sourdough biscuits. Adding the discard to pancakes emulates that buttermilk flavor reminiscent of real buttermilk pancakes. The texture may not be quite the same, but the pancakes make a great canvas for layering sweet or savory flavors. I had mine with both avocado and honey and it balanced very well with the funkiness of the batter. Next were the biscuits. Oh, the biscuits. Again, the sourdough created a mock-buttermilk tang in the biscuit, and the butter created those dang perfect layers I love to peel apart. While I maybe ate too many, the biscuits needed an extra oomf to make them really sing. As a trial run the biscuits were fine, but I’d love to see how they fare with cheddar or even honey mixed in.

So why sourdough starter? Well first off, it’s my kitchen and no one can tell me to not turn my countertop into a science experiment. Second, the starter has the potential to provide yeast for years with proper storage and feeding. Harvesting yeast is a simple process at it’s core but takes dedicated thought daily. It’s meditative and introspective to watch something literally come to life in your hands. Basically, sourdough starter is a tiny reminder that magic might actually exist if you’re whimsical enough to believe.