Wednesday, March 02, 2005

More on sourdough

This is NOT a baking blog. Nonetheless, I seem to spend a lot of time on this subject. Ah well. The inimitable AmyMac has asked me why San Francisco sourdough is so famous. To be honest, I don't know and, after some research, I can't find out. However, the following quote from James Beard in his classic book with the stomach-turning title, Beard on Bread, may provide some guidance:
I have found...that the starter can react differently within the same region. In New York City, I never had the success with it that I had in Connecticut or Long Island or Massachusetts. I have even found variations in its performance from one neighborhood of New York to another. Certainly it is just as unpredictable as Salt-Rising Bread, and I am not sure it is worth the trouble.

James Beard was to bread baking in America, what Yo-Yo Ma is to the cello; he perfected the art and made it accessible to the peons (like myself). If he says its hard and unsatisfying, it probably is. Likewise, if he found that starter success depended on geographic location, than it probably does. Thus, I think we might be able to infer from this quote that sourdough succeeds where good yeasts exist and I would assume that California has especially good wild yeast.

If you live in a region with poor yeasts, or you wish to cultivate a true San Francisco starter, you should check out Sourdoughs International. They collect sourdough cultures from around the world, and have a couple of San Francisco cultures. I recommend reading the bit about their Tasmanian sourdough. I like the idea that the woman who sent them the culture collected her yeasts by leaving the starter in a five-acre paddock. Now THAT is wild yeast!

Anyway, my point is this: if you're trying sourdough, don't give up if your starter doesn't work. My first three didn't when we lived 6 blocks from our current residence. Apparently, 6 blocks makes a difference. And, if you can't get your own wild yeasts, just buy some. That's what they invented internet commerce for...