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The Gift That Keeps on Giving

My friend Linda of Cook for Good fame drove down from Raleigh last week to give me some 150-year-old sourdough starter. Linda is a food activist, cooking instructor, author, and a cherished friend, so this wasn’t going to be any old starter; this is going to be “The One.” I fed my new starter three times, and baked all but 50 grams into a loaf of bread. This morning, Bob and I got the big pay-off: (fake) bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches!

I’ve heard Bob say that BLTs are the perfect food so often, that I’ve come to believe it. The health benefits of lettuce and tomatoes are obvious, but news stories about mayonnaise are a pleasant surprise. I remember one about a plane wreck survivor who stayed alive by eating mayonnaise snow cones, and another about Creme Puff, a cat who lived to be 38 on a diet of broccoli, asparagus, bacon, and mayonnaise.

BLTs on sourdough bread bump Bob’s theory into sacred territory. This morning Bob made himself two sandwiches, one on sourdough, and one on the last two slices of ordinary bread. The toasted sourdough made the better sandwich, he said, because it was “more interesting; tangy!”

Bob’s history with the ultimate sandwich goes back to his childhood years in Ghana, when the family cook pampered him with BLTs. We celebrated our first three or four years together with frequent servings of his perfect food. I remember the can of bacon grease beside the stove. I kept it because I’d heard that bacon grease would heal any equine wound, but I don’t recall ever using it on our horses. We’ve since replaced the bacon with tofu, tempeh, and Morningstar Farm bacon strips.

Bread is so fundamental to our diet that we’ve been baking our own since forever. Bob has such a preference for sandwiches, that I’ve nicknamed him “Sandwich Man”. He will find a way to turn nearly any meal into a sandwich. When faced with a bowl of beans and tortillas, he makes burritos. Tofu scramble and toast become “egg” sandwiches. I love the ease of a sandwich, and so we have them for dinner two or three times a week: Cheezsteaks, Sloppy Joes, Grilled Cheez, Cheezburgers, and Rubenz.

We’re especially attracted to sourdough because it tastes so darned good. As an added bonus, its leavening we don’t have to buy. I love the idea that such an essential ingredient makes itself. Sourdough tastes like independence.

More than a flavorful way to rise bread, starters are heirlooms, cherished pets that won’t die until you stop feeding them. Many bakers name their starters. I love that idea, and I’m leaning towards Stinky, or Homer (as in Homer Simpson, “D’oh!”).

It had been at least six years since I baked a loaf of sourdough bread, and I was a little nervous about test driving Linda’s starter. But, with the rich flavor of that BLT lingering in my mouth, I’m happy I plunged in. If we keep eating the perfect food, I may be feeding our new pet for another thirty years. And after that? Well, don’t be surprised if I leave Homer to you in my will!


Here’s my sourdough bread recipe:

Day 1 morning: Feed 50 grams of starter 50 grams each of water and flour.
Day 1 evening: Feed what is now 150 grams of starter with 150 grams each of water and flour. Split off 50 grams and refrigerate until time to feed again in a week. Add 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 cups of water to the remaining starter. Mix well, and add about three cups of flour, enough to make a very wet dough. Let the dough rise in a covered bowl on the counter overnight. Note: you can rise it in the refrigerator for another day or two if you don’t have time to bake the next day, but it will take longer for it to warm up and start rising.

Day 2 morning: Knead another cup or two of flour into the risen dough and let rise until double.
Day 2 afternoon: Knead briefly and put into a proofing bowl until nearly doubled in size
Day 2 evening: Bake at 410 degrees Fahrenheit in a covered Dutch oven for 25 minutes, uncover and bake another 15. Note: make sure the Dutch oven has been heating in the oven since you turned it on. Cool the loaf on a rack. After the bread has cooled, wrap it in plastic to make the crust easier to slice. If you prefer crusty bread, leave it unwrapped.

Day 3 morning: Slice and eat!

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

6 replies on “The Gift That Keeps on Giving”

Amazing…I never knew a starter could be given life over 150 years! My boyfriend makes the oddest sandwiches. Among them are potato chip sandwiches, french fry sandwiches and salad (normal greens and tomato) sandwiches. It’s like living with a 6 year old who doesn’t know it’s not normal.

Ha ha! Bob laughs when I pile lettuce and tomato on a sandwich; he calls them “salad sandwiches”. My mother tells me she used to send me to school with lentil sandwiches, and that one of my school mates was stuck with steak sandwiches liked to trade lunches with me. Potato sandwiches sound a lot like pierogi. Do his ancestors come from Poland?

Such a warm and wonderful post, dear Camille! Sarah Tillman first captured that starter 150 years ago. She was a Jewish immigrant to the South. I wish I knew more about her. I got my start of it from Liliya at a Democratic Socialist women’s brunch. Thanks for adding your mojo to its history!

It has a lovely flavor! Bob and I breakfasted on KFT sandwiches. Of course, I added lettuce, tomato, and veganaise!

Good question! I’ve read that you can make your own starter by setting flour and water in a warm place to capture wild yeast and bacteria. Sounds like an interesting summer project.

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