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Of all the topics I could write about right now, I’m choosing something I wasn’t even thinking about a little over a week ago…sourdough. As an educator, even though I’m not currently teaching, I’m still keeping up with current trends and issues in education, so I joined a Facebook group, Pandemic Pedagogy. With so many teachers having to move from their comfort zones of classroom teaching to online teaching, there are lots of questions out there. With my experience in online teaching, I thought I might be able to help, so I’ve been spending some time on the group page.

One day, I saw a post by a culinary teacher who wanted some feedback on her video teaching about establishing a sourdough starter. I took a look, provided some feedback, and started thinking about sourdough. Our daughter had kept a starter going for quite a while a few years ago, but it wasn’t gluten-free, so I never got to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Also, I’d been wondering how I would make productive use of the extra time I have since I’m not teaching Zumba classes during the “Stay at Home” order, and other social activities have been cancelled. Third, being a “Learner” (see Clifton Strengths discussion in Human Potential Developer Blog post), a teacher, and a researcher at heart, I decided to try starting a gluten-free sourdough starter. I’ve done enough gluten-free baking to understand some of the differences in the types of flours and mixes of flours, so I experimented with three different starters. I was concerned if I just had one, it would flop. Well, I have three healthy starters right now.

This results in an interesting dilemma because starters need to be “fed” (providing additional flour and water for the yeast to feed on), and feeding leads to having extra dough that is either thrown away or used in a recipe. Having three discards increases the amount a lot, but I’m not quite ready to get rid of one or two starters. Some people give their chickens the discard, and we have chickens. They loved the discard I gave them once, but one time was enough. I decided it was too valuable to share with them, so I looked for recipes to use the starter.

Someone on the FB group said she made waffles with the starter. Great! Oh, not so great. We ditched our waffle maker one or two moves ago, and I hadn’t replaced it. How about pancakes? Sure! Easy, fun, and oh so tasty. I need to work on the cooking technique since sourdough is very different to work with, but I’ll definitely make them again. The next day, I made pumpkin bread and banana muffins because I had so much extra starter. The fourth day of baking, I moved up to French bread. OH MY GOSH! Just like the pancakes, I need to work on adjusting the liquid content, baking times, and temperatures given the difference between baking with gluten-free flours. But seriously, there is nothing like the taste of sourdough French bread.

I think I’ve spent more time in the kitchen in the last week than I have in the four years we’ve been in our house. I’m a decent cook, but we got away from regular full meals over the years. This time of temporarily stopping life as we know it has made clear the need to adapt. So, while my Clifton Strength of WOO (Winning Others Over…the extrovert) is having to chill right now, my inner Renaissance woman is finding enjoyment in experimenting in the kitchen. The happy accident of engaging with a Facebook post has resulted in me creating a combination biology and chemistry project (shout out to Lyndell Robinson, my high school biology teacher) of watching wild yeast produce interesting air bubble patterns on the sides of the Ball jars. (On a side note, a friend said she thought my pictures were of fruit fly cultures. She works at the local zoo, and she said that’s what fruit fly cultures look like. Who knew?)

While I’m not keeping meticulous researcher’s notes, I’m enjoying the process. It’s interesting to see differences in wetter versus drier starters and notice how the different mixes smell more like sourdough or fingernail polish remover due to the amount of ethanol produced. I’m learning a new skill in baking with this new (to me) dough. The best part…eating it and having so much in abundance I get to share it with neighbors (using best sterile food service processes and delivery, of course).

So as those of us who aren’t in health care have had our work and social lives slowed down, it’s important to find ways to be flexible, adapt, and keep our minds active. Might I suggest starting your own #sequestersourdough? Here are the steps I used (thanks to Kathleen Claymore’s YouTube videos and

  1. Get a few fresh grapes, blueberries, or pineapple leaves. Look for ones that have a nice “frosted” look. That’s the wild yeast. Gently wash them, squish the berries, and place them in a bowl. Take one cup of flour and ½ C of water, put it in the bowl and mix. If you have a scale Kathleen’s videos tell you the scale-based proportions. Put the mixture into a ball jar with lid, and screw the lid down loosely so air can escape.

  2. For gluten-free sourdough, I started out with the Krusteaz gluten-free flour mix and added ¼ tsp of xanthan gum for elasticity. Also, I added 1/8th C more water because gluten free flour seems to soak up water more.

  3. Set the jar on your counter away from cold, and let it bubble.

  4. “Feed” it 1-2 times a day for the first few days, by taking ¼ C of the starter out, adding ½ C flour and a ¼ C water (a little more for gluten-free), mixing and putting it back in the jar. On Day 3, if the starter has bubbled and expanded nicely, strain out the fruit with a strainer. Above, I shared what I did with the leftovers. There are lots of other ideas online.

  5. Then there's this cool thing, the "Float Test." When your starter has progressed enough for a spoonful to float in water, then it's ready to be put in the fridge. Things will slow from there, and you won't feel like you're dealing with Tribbles. (Yep, I enjoy Star Trek.)

In future blogs, I’ll share more about what I’ve done with the starter and what I’ve learned about working with the dough. If you decide to join the #sequestersourdough movement, I’d love for you to post comments or questions to this blog. Be sure to post pics on social media with the hashtag #sequestersourdough so we can share our experiences and pictures of our wonderful creations. And if baking isn’t your thing, find something else new to learn, a new hobby to pick up, an old hobby you haven’t had time for in a while, or a project that you’ve been putting off for months (or years). It will help relieve stress and give you a sense of accomplishment while staying home. Be safe and healthy!

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