Fred vs. Amelia: A Sourdough Story

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Fred and his bread

A few months ago, I made a sourdough starter. I named him Fred.

Fred was a late bloomer. He was sufficiently fed and watered, kept warm and cozy in his infancy, but he failed to absorb much of the yeast he’d need to make a good bread, and his sour was never particularly strong. I refreshed him regularly, let him warm his dough in the summer sun, tried nourishing him with sugar and milk and even beer. Like the parent of any slow-developing child, I sought answers in books. Some made sourdough starting sound easy; if I couldn’t do it, I must be a fool. Others proclaimed it a daunting task, virtually impossible and best left to professionals.

Well.

I made a few loaves with Fred that were fine, though most went straight to the trash. The secret seemed to be about twenty-four hours of rising, half of that in the fridge. This long rise produced a bread with a great crust and a gentle tang but honestly, it wasn’t much more sour than the French bread I’ve made from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 2, which also allows for an all-day rise and refrigerator proof. My husband didn’t even realize I’d made sourdough.

Frustrating.

So I betrayed Freddie. I made another sour.

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Amelia and her bread.

Her name was Amelia. She was made with rye flour and a tomato from our garden, kept warm throughout her life rather than being shoved into the refrigerator. That was her ultimate downfall: she molded. But while she was alive, she was glorious. Her aroma made your nose sting. A true sour. A sour sour.

The problem was, I felt bad for poor Freddie. I mean, he was just a collection of fungal cells injesting sugar and producing alcohol, but he was like a pet, you know? Maybe you don’t know. But he lived in our fridge and he wore a nametag and I fed him once a week and said hello to him whenever I was looking for lettuce or cheese because that’s the kind of person I am. I talk to my food when I’m cooking it, too, and to the fabric that I sew. I talk to inanimate objects about as much as I talk to people. So I’m crazy. But anyway, I felt bad for Fred.

I didn’t want to throw him out, so I pitted the two breads against each other. Predictably, Amelia’s was much better. Then I put some of Amelia in the fridge and let some of Fred sit at room temperature. Both versions of Amelia were still tastier than both versions of Fred. So I married Fred and Amelia together and called the baby Destiny, both because the name made me laugh and because she’s my favorite character in Finding Dory. Plus, with a name like that, how could she not be the one sour to rule them all?

Well, she kind of took after her father.

And then we had a hot day. A really hot day, and we were out of the house, and I wasn’t thinking of my poor sourdough starters, so they got too hot. They both molded. So now Fred, Amelia, and Destiny are all in the compost heap, poor things. Unless I have some in the fridge? Do I have some in the fridge? Like a zombie starter–undead, rising from the grave.

Spooky. I’ll have to check.

 

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