7 Best Places to feed your Starter on a West Coast Road Trip
This winter we made our annual road trip, our sourdough starter in tow, from our home on Orcas Island to the American Southwest. On our migration we visit family, make fresh bread, and resurrect our vitamin-D levels. In years past, the trip would take two, maybe three days. One or two feedings, usually at Rest Areas, would due. But as we all know, 2020 was ‘different’, to put it lightly. This year we took our time, hugging the coast for dear life. We went slow. COVID slow….
Every Sourdough enthusiast has heard it before: Wild Yeasts are everywhere, on the flour granules, in the water, on your hands, in the air…The When/Where/ and How we feed our starters determines their flavour, vigour, aroma, and, of course, yeast populations.
With this in mind, along with the realization that I’d have to refresh my dear Levain,“Lolita” more than usual while still enroute, I came up with the notion to feed her in locales I believed would impart a particular liveliness, piquancy, and some robust new yeast strains. I drew up a sort of sourdough-feeding treasure map….
From beginning to end, I refreshed Lolita a total of 6 times. When we arrived at our destination, I couldn’t wait to try it out on a slow-fermented loaf. The bread was delectable, tangy, truly delightful. The COVID loaf? Not too enticing… But whatever it might be, I attribute its distinct taste and texture to these 7 places.
Day 1.) Orcas Island, WA- There’s no place like home. This is where Lolita was born and raised. Her innate microorganisms and idiosynchrasies hail from this seagirt, nature-blessed Isle. You can take the starter off-Island, but you can’t take the Island out of the starter.
Day 2.) Astoria, OR- I adore Astoria. But boy, is it rainy. And I’m not just talking showers and mist; it as a full-blown Pacific Northwest deluge, replete with grey maritime skies, yellow slickers, and compass-spinning fog. Lolita loved it. When I fed her here I let a fair amount of rain sprinkle into her hermetic Mason Jar.
Day 3.) Humboldt Redwoods, CA- There is something religious and mystical about feeding a sourdough culture. Perhaps sourdough is a sort of religion… That said, I could think of no more pious, and mind-quieting cathedral to worship my starter within than that of the Old Growth Redwoods of Northern California. I enjoyed the omen of mixing flour and water into my levain at the base of the tallest Sequoia Sempervirens I could find.
Day 4.). Mendocino, CA- I doubt that many people think of color when they think of sourdough. But ever since feeding Lolita along the lucid, technicolored coastline of the Mendocino headlands, I have considered it a sort of hidden ingredient in my bread. I get as near to the churning, radiant sea and spraying, cerulean breakers as I can when refreshing my sponge.
Day 5.) San Francisco, CA- The very term sourdough is synonymous, indeed often inextricable in many peoples’ minds, with the City by the Bay. It has a deep rooted history here, going back to the Gold Rush era. Probably the most desirable lactic acid strain produced during fermentation is derived from the highly sought Lactobacillus Sanfranciscensis. I thought it’d be a portent of great potential to feed Lolita on the scenic pull-off overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
Day 6.). Big Sur, CA- Some of my favorite writers and poets sang of the Big Sur coast. Many of them made their homes there, where wild sage and rugged stone coalesce with the untamed beauty of the Pacific. The fragrance of the air in the early morning, as the sun is coming up over the Ventana Wilderness to the East, is what I most wanted to distill into my culture. Tangy and salubrious and full of life. I’d like to think that any depth of aroma my bread has moving forward was procured from there.
Day 7.) Sedona, AZ- I was never too sure what the high desert of Arizona would have in store for my beloved Lolita. Indeed, this arid landscape is the polar opposite of her native Orcas. It could be the “vortexes”, or perhaps it’s all the Iron oxide washing about in the sky, but my starter is happy as a clam at high tide here. She’s simply vivacious! And yet, I can’t help but wonder whether her alacrity has spawned from the exhilarating new experiences of our Journey….
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