12 May 2021
Tomorrow is the day. Farmers’ Market opens at 10AM and closes at 2PM.
What is your favorite type of bread? Is it rye, or wheat, French or Italian, or is it maybe Sourdough?
It has been said that the story of human civilization and how it relates to our relationship with nature, food, religion, science, time, and one another – can all be told by a loaf of freshly-baked, warm-from-the-oven sourdough bread.
Not the store-bought Flavor-Free version found in a bag, but the real thing baked fresh beautiful with an aroma that makes you drool and lick your lips with anticipation.
The practice of baking fresh bread has been in existence since at least 8,000 BCE. Ancient Egypt saw the first large scale bread production during the Old Kingdom around 2650- 2134 BCE. The excavation of a lost Egyptian city from around the third Millennium BCE, found that more than 50% of the half million pieces found by the archeologists were of bread molds, probably for making leavened bread.
Since yeast was not a common thing in baking until around the 15th century, most of the bread baked was most probably sourdough. However, the first recorded use of sourdough was around 1500 BCE. Bread-making spread from Egypt, north to ancient Greece, where it became a luxury product.
Great Britain’s “Real Bread Campaign”, which started in 2008, reminds us that real bread can be made with just four ingredients: flour, water, a little bit of salt, and leavening. Sourdough has been that leaven of choice in Western civilization for six thousand years.
Christopher Columbus may have been the first person to bring European sourdough to the Americas, but the gold rush period is the historical starting point for sourdough in the U.S.
Consequently, San Francisco is the home of the best renown sourdough starters. These starters were so important that the owners would cuddle them on cold nights so that the yeast and bacteria would not die.
Boudin Bakery in 1849 is credited with the San Francisco sourdough’s official beginning. Around 1970 researchers finally identified the microbes that gave San Francisco sourdough that special flavor: the yeast is Candida milleri, and the principal bacterium is Lactobacillus sanfranciscenis.
Seamus Blackley, a physicist and Xbox inventor, once created an ancient sourdough starter by using Emmer flour, a dense variety Egyptians likely used in the Old Kingdom, along with 5000-year-old strains of yeast extracted, non-invasively, from dormant spores found in ancient Egyptian artifacts stored at both the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard’s Museum of Archeology and Ethnology.
As everyone knows, the right way to make sourdough bread is with a sourdough starter. Sourdough starter is easy to make, but I must warn you that probably every sourdough starter will have a different flavor. This may also be true of heritage starters that have been passed down for generations due to the type of microbes present in the environment at the time.
Anne Madden, a microbiologist at North Carolina State University did a study that shows that even though 18 bakers around the world started with the same flour, their starters were all different as tested by using DNA sequencing to identify the microbes in each starter. The difference is caused by the yeast and bacteria in the environment that start the culture.
As for the starter, you can make your own by mixing any ground up grain with a liquid, such as water and milk, then let it sit in the open air at room temperature. As it sits it will almost immediately be invaded by wild yeasts and bacteria in the air that settle into the mix, eating the natural sugars and converting them into lactic (and other) acids which give it a sour flavor. This also means that the bad bacteria get in with the good.
Don’t panic, if your starter turns black and smells horrible, just hang on a little longer. Soon conditions will change as the starter becomes more acidic from some of its inhabitants. By day three, usually, these so-called lactic acid bacteria have added so much acid to the starter that many of the early bad colonists can’t survive, leaving only the lactic acid bacteria and a few acid-tolerant yeasts. This lactic acid, together with the vinegary-smelling acetic acid, gives sourdough its characteristic tang. They also give off alcohol and carbon dioxide, which causes the bread to rise.
Usually within 10 to 14 days later, the starter has settled into a stable state where yeasts and lactic acid bacteria grow vigorously, the yeasts producing enough carbon dioxide to leaven a loaf of bread. The starter is ready to use. Another way of acquiring a starter is to get a starter from a friend or even off the internet. It becomes your pet and needs to be nurtured with water and nutrients for long life.
Alaskans so identify with sourdough that long-time residents are often called “sourdoughs”. “The Canadian Mounted Police refused to let any of the gold seekers over the boundary at Chilkoot Pass without a year’s supply of provisions,” writes Ruth Allman, author of Alaska
Sourdough (1976). “A 50-pound sack of flour—and a sourdough pot—would guarantee more satisfactory meals than canned food many times its weight.”
This tale has now come full circle, back to my original question about “favorite bread”. Well, as you have probably guessed by now, my favorite bread type is sourdough and I know the perfect place to get some of the best you will possibly ever eat. And, it is right here at the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market. I encourage you to stop by and try some of the sourdough bread from the Eclectic Kitchen. Tell Ginny I sent you.
Ginny arrived in 2016 looking for a job. Fresh out of the Navy, she couldn’t find an employer. To her luck, shortly after arriving she found out that the vendor making breads at our Farmers’ Market had just left. She approached the Farmers’ Market and was invited to bake breads for the Market. She accepted and got a sourdough starter from a friend. The starter is said to be an heirloom from the Gold rush days that has been handed down from person to person since then.
Ginny cranked up her bakery and makes everything homemade using only natural ingredients. The spice blends she uses in her baking are also homemade. For instance, for some of her desert favorites, she uses a cinnamon blend that consists of five different spices: cloves, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and of course cinnamon.
For her Cheesy sourdough she uses an Italian blend composed of 14 different herbs. She normally always carries garlic, cheesy garlic and plain sourdough bread at her booth. Occasionally she fills in with a veggie version or something else depending on what she has to work with, and she has a special this week. More on that later. I can vouch for both the garlic and the cheesy garlic. They are the best I have ever eaten.
Sourdough is not the only thing she bakes. She is known for her chocolate molasses cookies and her congo bars. She usually changes up the selection of her baked goods, as when I talked to her, she had triple chocolate muffins and zucchini bread. She has also been known to carry soups (another surprise coming) when it is really cold and other breads such as flat bread or pizza.
If you are in the market (pardon the pun) for sourdough bread, you have come to the right place. For the Market this week she is planning on baking her delicious cini minis, raisin bars, triple chocolate gluten free muffins. She will, of course, have her usual great sourdough breads and a special 3x chili cheesy bread with a kick, I am told. Great, I like spicy foods so you better get there before I do because I will definitely try one of those. And for a change of pace, Ginny is making a delicious sounding butternut squash soup. You don’t want to miss this so, stop by and say hi to Ginny and take home a loaf or two of some of the best sourdough this side of San Francisco.
In case you haven’t heard, the Hone Ranger is in need of your help. A fire destroyed his van and took his livelihood. If you would like to help, head on over to his Go-Fund-Me page at https://gofund.me/bb641232 and donate whatever you can.
As always, many of the market vendors accept WIC Farmers Markets & Senior Farmers Markets Vouchers in exchange for fresh fruits and vegetables. SNAP vouchers can be also used at some of the vendors booths. You can use your EBT card at the info booth for SNAP vouchers and Double UP tokens (unlimited amount right now).
We are looking forward to seeing you all at this coming week’s Market. For more information on all our vendors and the products they will be bringing, please see this week’s Farmers’ Market newsletter at www.sierravistafarmersmarkets.com. Also, check out our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sierravistafarmersmarket/.