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 I have a proper sourdough culture again and I had begun to know how people must have originally made leavened bread.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.