“Mom, come look!” It’s the same sentence my son has called out to me ever since he was little. He’s 15 years old now, and it still catches my attention. I put down my book and rise from the couch to see what he’s up to in the kitchen. The yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread is hypnotizing. It’s too bad I can’t eat gluten.
“Wow,” I say, as I stare through the oven window. “Those popovers are beautiful.” I’m impressed, because he’s working with an ordinary muffin pan. I owned a popover pan years ago and threw it away when the finish stripped off. But even though I used to be able to bake popovers — with the help of a specialty pan — my son has taken this skill to a higher level, because he’s baking sourdough popovers.
That’s right, my teenager has joined the sourdough craze that’s sweeping America as home bakers rediscover the ancient science of fermenting dough. My son received his starter from my Girl Scout co-leader Karen, along with strict instructions on how to take care of it.
“I need a food scale,” he told me as we drove over to Karen’s house.
“No way,” I said. “I don’t want anything else cluttering up my kitchen.”
But Karen backed my son up. “You need a food scale, Jenny,” she said. “And a bigger jar because this sponge will grow.”
She was right — and so was my son, who did extensive sourdough research before he ever made his first loaf. Tending a sourdough starter is like having a full-time job. He feeds it flour and water to keep it alive. The jar in our fridge has to remain in a certain spot so it doesn’t accidentally get pushed to back corner where it might freeze. Plus, he has to deal with the discard — the part of the starter that you either toss or use every time it grows.
Today my son used the discard to bake popovers. Yesterday he made English muffins. Tomorrow it’ll be a loaf of bread. This isn’t how either one of us thought he would spend the last month of his freshman year, but I’m happy he’s learned new skills that help feed his family.
Still, having a sourdough starter in the house is stressful, in that it’s another mouth to feed. It can be difficult finding flour at the grocery store, and I worry we’ll run out. I’ve ordered flour directly from King Arthur Flour, Bob’s Red Mill and Sunrise Flour Mill, in addition to putting it on my shopping list for Fred Meyer pick-up each week. Specialty flours, like rye, are even harder to locate.
But that’s part of the history of sourdough, isn’t it? Figuring out how to make bread without ready access to normal ingredients is what makes sourdough special. So the next time you tear off a piece of chewy sourdough bread, remember that scarcity mixed with hard work and resourcefulness can produce delicious results.
Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.