Friday, 24 July 2009


Years ago, living in Santa Cruz, I used to keep a sourdough culture.
I had always made our bread since the early days in 1972, in Newfoundland, where there were no bakeries of the sort that I had been used to in Adelaide. Upon my arrival in Newfoundland, I found that bread was flown to St John's from Montreal, arriving stale and only intermittently. My neighbours all made their own bread. I had never even seen bread made at home, but soon, I was preparing dough and baking it at least every second day. It became routine.
I continued to make all of our bread, eventually making seven loaves on five days each week for eight of us, most of whom took sandwiches to work and school daily. The occasional loaf went to a neighbour who would wander along after work if he could smell the fresh bread.
In Santa Cruz, I kept a sourdough culture. That culture was prepared from a freeze dried culture from San Francisco. I used to make bread, sweet cinnamon rolls and pancakes from the culture. That culture remained in the back of the fridge and I fed it weekly, using the production for whatever it was needed.

This time I have caught my own sourdough culture. After some reading and investigation, I found out how people used to make their sourdough cultures before the time of freeze drying.
I made a mixture of organic flour and water (no chlorine)... just one cup of each, and I mixed them in a large ceramic pudding bowl. I covered these with a cloth, held by a rubber band, and put it on the shelf above the stove.
After a week, there was a brownish liquid on top of the mixture. I stirred it in. It had the yeasty smell of bread dough. I added another cup of flour and a cup of water into it, stirred and replaced it. After another week, this morning, it had a clear brown liquid again and it was a bit bubbly.
This morning I took a cup of the culture and a cup each of flour and water and put it into a clean jar... I have a proper sourdough culture again and I had begun to know how people must have originally made leavened bread.
I stirred the rest of the culture and it was not as bubbly as I thought, so I added a bit of baking powder. (I had heard of people doing this in Newfondland, though I hadn't tried it way back then.) I made pancakes... and ate them with apricot jam. I forgot to take a photograph!
There is still some floury mixture left. I have added some egg, and it will make something like scones later today... to eat with soup for tea tonight.
(picture to be added)

Sourdough bread is a special taste. Some people prefer it to "normal" bread and it is a delicacy in some places. The special taste is caused by the breakdown on some of the complex carbohydrates (larger molecules) from the grain, making the product slightly more acid and with other smaller and more aromatic compounds, including alcohol. The yeast (I caught mine from the air and the flour) breaks down the carbohydrates producing the special smell and taste, but also making them easier to digest... using less digestive effort (agni.)
Another kind of yeast that many people are familiar with are those that break down the sugar in grapes, making that easier to digest also, as the alcohol in wine.
Years ago, when people worked hard merely to collect enough food to keep them going, even this difference in energy required to digest and assimilate grain would have been significant, and these preparations of foods from sourdough cultures would have been very important.

One of the first grains to be cultivated was barley. The carbohydrates in barley are also complex and take some energy to break down, to digest. An easy way to break down these complex carbohydrates is to allow the grain to germinate (malting it), producing its own enzymes to break down carbohydrate and increase protein and change the flavour. The carbohydrates can be further simplified by adding yeast, brewing beer. This again makes the carbohydrate much easier to digest. Yeast also produces vitamins of the B group, adding to the nutritional value of the product.
Brewing of beer, like the baking of bread were once home-based crafts mainly performed by women. Both have been taken over by corporate industry, and the products have become less individual and more similar everywhere. The same can be said of cheese, soap, wine, oil and many agricultural products. Years ago, one of the experiences of travelling was to be able to try new things.... in recent years I have heard people sound relieved at the fact that when travelling, at least it is possible to get "McDonald's" when one doesn't like the local food.
However, resistance to homogeneity is growing, giving rise to the slow food and local food movements. Many people now look for home made or local products.
And I have learned to catch and grow Kapunda sourdough.


Fiona (posts by her mum and dad) said...

You'll have to get some sants cruz sourdough when you are here in a couple of months. Lots of good bakerys around here...see you soon and thanks for the wonderful post.

John L said...

That was great. The best post so far.

josh said...

I like this .. who know I could catch my own yeast! I'm going to pass this on to Rach, who has been trying to make sourdough lately :)

Jane said...

I have kind of understood that this was theoeticlly possible, but then I made an effort to find out how and why...
Once upon a time, people had to have started this somewhere.
The reason that SF sourdough is supposed to be so good is that the yeasts come from the grapevines! One think led to another, and, as we leve among grape vines also, I thought it should work.
As well as that, there are yeasts on other fruits too... and they can all turn carbohydrates into simpler sugars, which is all you need here. My othr thought is that this probaby works best in summer, and that is why people also learned to culture it over the winter... it is proabaly harder to catch when there is less of it around! (Just a thought.)
People have always done things like this.. we just need to "re-invent the wheel." It is also a pity that modern civilisation has encouraged all of us to be so incompetent compared with our ancestors.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I found your blog yesterday and have been reading through it - I find it really interesting and helpful. I'm actually from Newfoundland, Canada and have moved to Adelaide with my husband back in April 2010. He's from here and we decided to make Adelaide our home, because of his work, etc. Anyhow, I'm not used to Aussie gardening so I'm finding your blog very helpful. Anyway, I just wanted to leave a comment because I was VERY surprised and excited to see that you've been to my part of the world!! Anyhow, just wanted to say thanks heaps for all the helpful hints I've been getting from your blog. I'm very excited to get our garden started! Abigail =)

Jane said...

Hello Abigail...
What a lovely comment.
Louise (who commented earlier) is my daughter who was born in Newfoundland and has a plan to get back there to see it as an adult one day.
Where did you live in Nfld? and more importantly, how is your new Adelaide garden going?

I'm glad that you've found the blog useful. I'm a bit busy with art at the moment, but the garden blog will get busier when the weather is warmer.

Thanks for visiting,

Anonymous said...

That's really interesting, I don't know very many Aussies who've been to NF! Most people who travel to Canada go to Ont or BC, so it's really nice knowing that you've spent time in my home town! How long were you there for? I grew up in St. John's and I really miss the place! It's very different to Adelaide (we live in Tea Tree Gully) though I have to say I much prefer the winters here then at home! I love that we can grow veggies here in the winter - that really amazes me ... and are able to keep chooks! My hubby grew up with chooks and we got some pretty soon as we moved back here. We've been busy redoing the house so we put the garden off until now. I've been researching organic gardening over the past few weeks online and have been to the library and have some really good reference books which have been helpful (as it's all really new to me and I've never had my own veggie garden - though my dad used to have a small patch when I was younger) I've placed an order through The Diggers, so I'm waiting for my seeds to come (maybe next week!) and I'm excited to try some heirloom variety of veggies that we can't get in the store. Both my husband and I really love the idea of self sustainability, so we've both been enjoying learning and reading up on different ways to help the environment and live a more healthier life style. We have our 1st bub on the way (due in Feb) and really want to try and create a good, healthy and natural life style for the little one and ourselves. We have a real respect for creation and love nature, so Australia is a great place to live!! Anyhow, I've been really enjoying your blog and the helpful hints you give! And I love that you do bottling and preserving. And the homemade bread reminds me of my mom, she makes it a lot and has taught me how to as well (though I've never made it without her help!) Have you ever tried molasses bread? It's very Newfie and we always have it around Christmas time! Anyhow, thanks again for your help ... I'll let you know how we go with the garden!

Jane said...

I lived in Nfld from 1972 til 1980... and two of my children were born there. We lived at first near the Avalon Mall (Cumberland Cres) and then moved to Gleneyre St near Kmart. My email is
ejanea at gmail dot com
that's easier for communication :-)