Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Beauty Of Earthly Magic

I have done it! I have captured the wild yeast!
Today was Day 6 of the yeast-making project and just as was predicted, my starter did indeed begin to double in size after a few hours which means it's ready. It smells fruity and yeasty and sour. So I keep the starter in the refrigerator and every week I have to take some out and feed it and water it to keep it alive if I haven't used some for baking, at which point I'd use what I removed and give it more food and water. Its food is flour.
The success I've had in this process so far has been almost inappropriately thrilling to me. I mean- THIS is how risen bread was first made. Okay, not with store-bought flours from modern wheat and so forth, but the principles of capturing the yeast and the fermentation which causes the bubbling rising of the dough are the same. Have you read about this? 
In theory, this starter could be passed down for generations although I seriously doubt it will be. But I think about how it must have been not that long ago when packaged yeast wasn't a thing yet and I'm sure that when a woman got married she carried some of her mama's starter with her to her new home and that mama had probably gotten her starter from her mother and so on and so forth.
Like RNA- passed from one woman to another.
And if a woman lost her starter due to any number of things that could befall it, it would have been a major catastrophe, especially if she was isolated from other bakers of bread. I think of the women snowbound during the endless winters in the midwest or say...Alaska. It would have been nearly impossible, I think, to create another starter in such frigid conditions. The yeast needs not only food and water, it needs heat and that would have been hard to come by in a cabin heated by a wood fire where the temperatures probably never creeped above fifty or so.
Oh, I ramble.
But all of this reminds me of the first time that I was truly struck by the fact that cooking was in my blood. I'd been cooking for years already and was probably about fifteen years old and I knew I enjoyed it and I knew I could do it but at a primitive encampment on a mountain in North Carolina I was simmering vegetables in a cast iron dutch oven over a fire I had built myself to make into a stew and I had one of my few moments of perfect epiphany.
I was meant to do this.
So it makes perfect sense that fifty years later this little experiment has thrilled me so.

Last night, too impatient to wait for the finished product, I made a dough of some of the discarded stuff from the past two days' feedings, white flour, whole wheat flour, and oat bran, and set it to hopefully rise in a thick white crockery bowl with a red and white checked dish towel covering it and it did indeed rise beautifully overnight. I gave it a second rise today and baked it in a preheated and covered cast iron pot (you know how much I adore my cast iron) and this is what happened.

I have not yet cut into it but I will for my supper. I think it is beautiful. 

Speaking of the cast iron pot, I have a little story. 
Yesterday, on my way home from town, I stopped by the Bad-Girls-Get-Saved-By-Jesus Thrift store and they had a lovely, seemingly unused enamel-clad dutch oven. Not a Le Creuset but one made by Lodge, who makes quality cast iron ware. It cost ten dollars. And for some reason, I did not buy it. I picked it up, I set it down. I left and came home. 
And last night as I was mixing up that dough I thought about that pot and kicked myself for not buying it. Jeez! 
And so this morning Lily met me there after Maggie's dance lesson and guess what- it was gone. 
Someone was a lot smarter than me. 
Ah, sigh. When will I ever learn my lesson? 
But my own non-enameled cast iron small pot makes a pretty loaf too. 

Lily and I had a good time at the Children's and Maggie got a toy baby-carrier and a birthday teddy bear to go in it and I found Lily a pristine leather handbag for five bucks that retails for around a hundred and fifty so it was a good day anyway. 

Last night I turned off the air conditioner and opened the window above my bed and slept as sweetly as someone whose Baku has eaten all of her nightmares. I did dream about a house and there were many, many of the same elements in it of mess and so much stuff but at least in this one there was an attic filled with antiques, although none very valuable, and people were showing up to buy them with money in hand. Lis was there and she was advising me on the worth of things and so there was a positive element to it. I know the house represents my life, my mind, my spirit in these dreams, no matter which dream version of a house it is, and it is good to know that I recognize the value even in the clutter and disorder and confusion and sometimes filth of it all. The dream was more interesting than depressing, more hopeful than despairing. 
The air conditioner is still off. Has been all day. 

Mr. Moon is on his way home, I think. Tonight I will eat salmon with braised greens and steamed vegetables and some sourdough bread. Jack will sleep up against my hip, solid and comforting, and the sweet, yeasty air of Lloyd will fill my room. 
We shall see what I capture in my dreams. 

Take care, y'all. 

Love...Ms. Moon


  1. That bread is gorgeous Mary. I feel the same way about my yeast. LU

    1. Love you too.
      And I love your yeast. I don't actually know your yeast but I love it anyway.

  2. I have a blogger friend in England who has failed at her first sourdough attempt. It appears she attempted to capture the wild yeast, too. She is so disappointed. Can you write a paragraph about starting, that I can forward, with a link.
    The bread is beautiful! I saw your follow up post.

    1. I followed the directions here:
      I wish your friend good luck!

  3. Wow! Congratulations! That starter description took me back to Tom Hank's movie where he made fire. So many skills almost lost, but women like you are keeping the flame lit. So to speak.
    I would think starter would have been difficult to keep here in the winter. I have read many diaries of early homesteaders here and bread was just necessary to prevent starvation. The price of flour was very high and even caused a riot in 1863.
    That bread just looks yummy.

    1. Well, as much as gluten gets a bad rap these days, bread has always been a human dietary staple. And somehow, it seems that the more people who are professing their inability to digest it properly, the more people there are who are becoming interested in what we so ironically call "artisan" bread, which of course is actually fairly primitive bread.

  4. That bread is indeed beautiful. I wish I could sit around your kitchen table and share it with you. Congrats on capturing yeast! I don’t really understand it but you made me want to know more. We are alike in so many ways but we are not alike in cooking. You make an art of it and love doing it while I appreciate artists such as you are without feeling the need to dive into those waters myself. Mixing metaphors here. Lovelovelove

    1. That is indeed one big difference between us! Well, that and the fact that you're an artist and I most definitely am not.
      I'd love to share bread with you, dear woman.

  5. You have a way better Bad-Girls-Get-Saved-By-Jesus Thrift store than we have here. I've noticed that the thrift store prices keep going up and up. The other day I was looking for a glass loaf pan and it cost the same to buy it brand new as it did at the thrift store.

    The sourdough looks fabulous. I've taken to buying my sourdough at Cob's just because it takes so long to make the sourdough myself. What I love about sourdough is that it takes much longer to go mouldy than regular bread. I buy a loaf of regular bread and it goes mouldy within a few days and we don't eat a loaf very fast. But the sourdough can last more than a week.

    I dreamed about making stew last night because I found all these small pieces of beef. Not sure what that means:)

    Have a lovely day.

    1. Bought sourdough is no doubt just as good as any I make. It's just so thrilling to me to make it. It is a labor of love.
      Maybe you dreamed about making stew because you want some!

  6. I am so impressed at how well your starter is working! That is truly mystifying to me. No wonder our ancestors believed in alchemy. There must have been so many things in the world they didn't completely understand -- like how bread starter materializes out of the air!

    I've had that same experience at thrift stores so many times -- left something behind, regretted it, went back for it and it was gone. In the long run, though, it's probably for the best. If you vacillated on it at all, there was a reason, and you're surviving fine without it!

    1. I think we've all done it- left something behind we should have bought. I think the reason I left if behind is that suddenly, I just wanted to be at HOME.
      But yeah- little regrets and easy to get over.

  7. beautiful loaf! I have never made bread, well, we had a bread machine once and we used it for a couple of years maybe but that doesn't really count. and it would only really make white bread. all my attempts at whole wheat were a bust. probably because I didn't know what I was doing. I don't eat much bread anyway because it gives me gas. tmi, I know. I would eat bread that you made though. and thrift store fonds...I found a gorgeous chinese embroidered jacket my size for only $6 but I didn't get it then because I was there with my daughter to buy summer clothes. stupid, right? when I went back for it it was gone of course.

    1. I wonder if sourdough would be easier for you to digest. Okay. I just googled that and it would appear that it is.
      Oh! I can completely relate to the left-behind Chinese embroidered jacket! Maybe someday you will find another one and this time you WILL buy it.

  8. Wow, that bread loaf is beautiful. And thanks for the link to that story of Egyption yeast. Amazing. It's inspired me to get some wild yeast starter going. I think I may have to wait until next summer when it's a bit warmer in my kitchen, but I'm doing it!

    1. You could always try it. At the very worst you'll just have wasted some time, energy and some flour. And it would be good practice to try again next spring.


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