Imagining the future
Nearly two weeks ago I started growing sourdough again.
I’m growing a rye and a wheat starter but will likely settle on one or the other.
This time I’m using freshly milled grain. Twice a day I mill 18g of wheat and 20g of rye and refresh my starters. I started with 90g and 100g to get things going and will reduce to 9g and 10g of the grain and possibly change to feeding once a day on days that I don’t bake.
I baked with the rye starter last week but I used it for taste not leavening. I used yeast as well for the leavening. Thursday I’m going to bake with the wheat starter with no added yeast.
Jeffrey, my favorite teacher, recently posted on the Bread Baker’s Guild site about a class he was helping with. He started Saturday morning with 1.5 g - less than a half teaspoon - of rye starter that he’s maintained since 1980. He turned some of it into wheat starter and grew some of it into a larger amount of rye starter so that Monday morning when the class began he had enough to feed the breads they would be making.
The class made six different types of bread from that 1.5g of starter. That little amount of starter turned into 70kg of dough in less than three days which turned into more than one hundred loaves of bread. That tiny amount grew by a factor of nearly 50 thousand.
Did that little thimble full of starter ever dream of what it would become? How many it would nourish?
Links to the past
This past fall Josh and I traveled to Vermont to take a class on the science of sourdough.
I’ve wanted to take this class for years - and now that I’ve finished my latest book on coding, I can go back and update my bread baking book with things I learned in this class as well some recipes I’ve been testing and retesting lately.
I don’t know if this is the proper use of the word ironically, but ironically, I let my starters die before traveling to this class.
In addition to the four days I’d be gone for the class, I was on my way to Wales and Spain for three weeks and had a trip to Amsterdam and Paris a month away.
I could have freeze dried the sourdough - I’ve done it in the past - but bringing that back to life takes as long as growing some from scratch and I wanted to try to grow some from fresh milled grains.
In class we learned how to influence the flavor and character of the starter by varying feedings and temperature. I’d done calculations that if you feed a sourdough twice a day and discard two thirds of it at every feeding, in a week you’re left with almost nothing of the original seed.
And yet - starting over is a break with the history I had with the starter.
Jeffrey has been maintaining his starter for more than forty years. He’s fed it once a day for forty years.
There may be no part of that starter that is the same as what he had growing forty years ago - but there is a link.
It’s like us as our cells die and get replaced with regularity. The me that walks around each day probably contains little or none of the me from forty years ago - and yet it’s still me.
It’s the river where the water running through it today is certainly not the water that ran through it when we visited forty years ago and yet we consider it to be the same river.
This year there were hearts tied to the tree in the garden at the end of our street.
Susan has hung hearts there for sixteen years.
Each year when I go down to look at them there is a continuity that is comforting.
The hearts have changed over the years. For sixteen years there have been hearts with Elena’s name on it. For six there have also been hearts with Kim’s name.
They go up in time for Valentine’s Day and stay up until early March.
Today we sit between the seventeenth anniversary of Elena’s death last Wednesday and what would have been her twenty-fourth birthday this Friday.
And Susan has hung hearts on the tree.
Some year she won’t. Each year I’m sure this will be the year.
And yet there the hearts are. They remind me of all that Elena was and all that she could have been.
This week I listened to an interview that Larry Wilmore did with Henry Louis Gates. Gates talked about his mother’s role as a eulogizer. She would capture the lives of people that had died in stories that she would share at church.
Gates said that his “mother’s gift was to capture what it was that you dreamed of in your heart […] What you aspired to be in your heart before the world disappointed you.”
When someone dies before they turn seven, we have beautiful memories of their dreams and aspirations because the world has not yet disappointed them.
That’s the piece of Elena I try to carry with me.
The hearts help me remember to do so.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 153. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe