Last weekend, I had the privilege of teaching eight lovely women how to bake sourdough bread. I absolutely adore teaching these workshops. The participants are always so enthusiastic and willing to get their hands right in the dough (which is exactly what we do….no mixers here!) We cover a lot of ground in a three hour span, basically a Sourdough 101, and everyone leaves with two loaves of bread ready to put in the refrigerator overnight and bake in the morning, along with a sourdough starter of their own to feed and nurture so that they can continue baking bread in their own kitchens. Sourdough bread instruction tends to be very technical and intimidating. My approach to teaching it is to make it fun and inviting. Baking sourdough bread should not be an activity reserved only for those who love hydration percentages and baker’s math. It’s for everyone who is willing to say “yes” to the sourdough life.
Those who show up at my workshops willing to say a hearty “yes” to this way of life bring with them so many reasons for wanting to do so:
I need something creative, just for me.
I love the idea of doing something real, with my hands.
I don’t even eat bread but I want to make this for my family.
I want to know what’s going in to the bread I eat.
Each one on their own path but wanting to enhance their lives by giving themselves over to this ancient, creative practice. It is a beautiful thing, this sharing of the sourdough life, and I am grateful to be able to do it.
What is the sourdough life? It is a commitment to nurturing a living ecosystem, the sourdough starter, that is your partner in the baking process. It is a willingness to be present for your sourdough starter when it needs your attention, which at first is as often as twice a day. It is an opportunity to dance with the ancient rhythms of life and nature that are inherent in the baking of sourdough bread. It is a intentional slowing down to an unhurried pace that runs counter to almost every aspect of the modern world. It is a surrendering of control and an opportunity to simply allow things to happen in their own good time. It is a creative ritual that brings a sense of simplicity, connection and well-being into our lives. Oh, and there’s the reward of the bread itself….fragrant, warm and rustic, unlike anything you would find in the grocery store. And you made it with your own two hands with a simple combination of flour, water and salt.
My introduction to this life came in culinary school, three years ago. I had just gone through a divorce and was faced with the prospect of what was next for me. I had been a stay-at-home mom for 12 years. What would I do to support myself? Before I had children, I had been a practicing attorney. A very unhappy one. I wasn’t too excited about returning to that career path, but I investigated my options, networked with my former colleagues and went on some interviews. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put myself back in that toxic environment. So I went to culinary school instead. It was something I had always wanted to do, cooking and baking had been long-standing passions in my life. Artisan Breads was known as a demanding class, but I absolutely loved it, particularly the sourdough aspect of it. I fed my starter religiously, even taking him with me on vacations. After the class ended, I continued to bake on my own and even considered the prospect of owning my own bakery for awhile. The more I baked the more bread I gave away to friends and family. They began asking if I could show them how to make it themselves, and so the workshop was born.
Now I write, teach yoga and journaling classes, and host bread baking workshops. A far cry from my lawyering days and not nearly as lucrative, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t know where this journey will take me next, but I do know that settling into this ancient practice of sourdough bread baking has changed me. Yes, it can be a bit of an ordeal to create a starter, to continue to nurture and feed it, to plan ahead so that your bread has enough time to ferment in the refrigerator before baking. It’s so much easier to just buy bread from the store! But the results of your efforts are well worth it, both in terms of the rewards of the creative process and the delicious bread itself.
Consider saying “yes” to the sourdough life, to dedicating yourself to a practice that grounds, delights and nourishes on so many levels. Come to a workshop or read a book on the topic (I recommend Sourdough by Sarah Owens). Simply begin by creating your own starter and see where that takes you. I will follow up this post with instructions for beginning your own starter, but if you can’t wait, there are plenty of resources on the internet for getting started. The good people at www.kingarthurflour.com are always a good and reliable source.