Adventures in Sourdough with apologies to Robert Service

Sandy’s First Loaf
Image from Parks Canada

The history of British Columbia is steeped in the search for gold. I grew up in Northern BC and there was no escaping our province’s connection to the gold rushes in the Klondike and the Cariboo. My childhood included exploring Barkerville with my family, panning for gold in every river or creek we came across, building miniature sluice boxes out of Popsicle sticks in Grade Five, and eating sourdough.

In honour of my province’s gold rush history, my entry for February’s Mastery Challenge hosted by Food in Jars concerning fermentation was to try my hand at making Sourdough and writing bad poetry.

I experimented with two different methods for making my own starter, which I used in two different, and very good recipes. Here is how I made out.

Experiment #1 – Starter with yeast

I wanted my first adventure in sourdough to be a success. I was worried that my house would be too cold so I thought I would help my starter along by using a recipe that included yeast. The recipe I choose was very simple, basically put stuff in a container and leave it alone. So I did. But it didn’t grow one bit and it developed a layer of clear liquid.

I was worried but after reading a post on the Food in Jar’s facebook page, I learnt that the clear liquid was called “hooch” and it meant that your starter was hungry. So I fed it and it grew.

All was going well until we were faced with a medical emergency and days spent at the hospital. As a result, my starter did not get any attention and it was left alone in my cold, cold house.

But that didn’t really seem to matter. Both my starter and my loved one survived. Ultimately, I was able to make myself some English Muffins using this batch with enough left over to share with my neighbour.

Making Sourdough starter with yeast.

Experiment #2 – Starter without yeast

For my next experiment, I thought I would try making a starter without yeast. Unlike the first experiment, I feed this starter almost everyday.

It grew really well. In a fit of nostalgia, I thought I would use it to make a recipe that was very popular when I first moved out on my own. In the late 1980s/early 1990s, every young mom in my neigbourhood was making Amish Friendship Bread. I dug out my old cookbook; I still had my original recipe.

You can always tell how good a recipe is by how much of a mess it is

Since my starter was growing well, I started at Day 5 and added the milk, sugar, and flour. I was a little worried that the starter would smell bad because of the milk, but this fear was unfounded.

Day 10 rolled around and I made two loaves of Amish Bread. I sent one over to my patient neighbour along with more starter and a copy of the recipe. The other loaf we ate ourselves.

Amish Friendship Bread with apples and cinnamon. Delicious!

What did I learn:

I learnt that I still really like Amish Bread and that I am not alone. Friendship Bread Kitchen is a website full of resources and recipes.

I also learnt that Sourdough starter is remarkably sturdy and flexible. The medical event this month meant that neither the fire that heats my house or my starter was fed. My poor baby starter was frozen and starved but it survived and provide me with some delicious treats.

Will I do this again:

The Man has asked that I do this again. And again, and probably again. Despite the all the work and hassle, the results are worth it.

A Poem

In the past I have figured out what it cost to make each recipe. I didn’t do that this time. Instead, I wrote a really bad poem based on, stolen from plagiarizing inspired by The Cremation of Sam McGee, which like Sourdough, is a reminder of past gold rushes.

The Baking of Sourdough

There are strange things done in the name of fun
By those who put food in jars;
Kitchen tables all have their fables
Of recipes that left some scars;
The lids and rings have seen odd things
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that day in the East Kootenay
Where I captured wild cerevisiae.

Feral yeast is in the air where it lives without a care
existing wild and free.
It is there all the time regardless of clime;
But it is too small to be something to see.
Even when it is cold, this useful mold
can be caught with a simple scheme;
Though bakers often say in their helpful way
that it’s harder than it might seem.

On a cold winter day I was making my way
over to my pantry;
Talk of being bare! There was nothing to spare
And I was feeling quite cranky.
I looked in a bin but there was nothing therein;
Not even bread to dip in my tea.
It wouldn’t be much fun but if I wanted a bun
then I must catch some wild cerevisiae.

At that very hour, as I did scour
my cupboards empty and bare;
Some flour I found on the shelf by the ground
behind a box of old silverware.
“Sourdough,” I said, “will be my bread,
I will make it from scratch I guess;
And as I do, I will see it through
to guarantee my eventual success.”

Well, I picked out a bowl, anything metal was a no;
then I gathered the rest of my things.
Next, I got the water, and being a pauper,
I had to haul it from the spring.
But that was okay – as I had heard them say
that the water must be chlorine free.
So off I went carrying my pail with the dent
to the spring flowing under the tree.

Wild cerevisiae has needs that we must heed,
so I hauled up that water cold and pure.
I carried it back all the way to my shack,
the thought of fresh bread had an unwavering allure.
Once through the door, I could wait no more
so I began my task;
I measured the water and then I did stir in the flour
right into my awaiting cask.

Before it began to froth, I covered it with a cloth
to keep the mixture dust free.
I checked it each day and it smelt okay
and I fed it on Day Three.
The next two days went by in a haze
as the mixture began to grow.
I fed it some more and each tiny spore
Grew into my sourdough.

Now a starter made is a debt unpaid
and sourdough has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb,
in my heart I cursed that load.
It needed my care and I began to despair
that my bread I would never bake;
with more flour I did feed it and with a spoon I did beat it
O God! How much more could I take.

And every day the wild cerevisiae
seem to larger and larger grow;
yet on I went, though my flour was spent,
and even my water was getting low,
It smelt like beer and I began to fear
That I would never taste my bread;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing,
It was making me soft in the head!

Finally the day came where my time I could reclaim
and bake my sourdough.
I activated the starter adding flour and water
finally all systems were go!
I turned out the dough, it was a soft pillow;
And I began to knead.
I pulled and I pushed until I was near bushed
And my worries began to recede.

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor,
and I lit the oven fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around,
and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the oven roared,
as it should on the old homestead
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal,
and I stuffed in my loaf of bread.

I do not know how long in the snow
I waited for bread golden and hot.
My hunger would abate with bread on my plate
All my suffering would soon be forgot.
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said,
“I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess it’s cooked, and it’s time I looked;”
then the door I opened wide.

Could it really be that my empty belly
Would soon be filled with sourdough bread?
I pulled it out and then set about
Getting butter and jam to be spread.
I realized with a start that deep in my heart
I still had something to do.
With some pride, I set aside
A little bit of starter to anew.

There are strange things done in the name of fun
By those who put food in jars;
Kitchen tables all have their fables
Of recipes that left some scars;
The lids and rings have seen odd things
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that day in the East Kootenay
Where I captured wild cerevisiae


  1. oh that is just wonderful, good for you to create this super Dan McGee parody!!
    and it has tempted me to try the same, a starter I will begin.
    ann lee s

    Liked by 1 person

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