How Sourdough Bread Saved My Summer
To the french people, bread represents more than just water and flour transformed through a chemical process, catalyzed by the heat from an oven. Bread is vitality. I even remember learning the phrase “repas sans pain, repas de rien,” in my french three class--literally translating to “a meal without bread is nothing.” Kneading the dough, the tactile sense translating one stage of the process into the next, from flour to dough-- from dough to loaf, establishes a bond that is uncannily analogous to our most intimate relationships. The feeding of the starter each morning when the sun rises and again as the sun sets on the opposite side of the horizon dictates our lifestyles in subtle, but impactful ways. The breaking of bread at the dinner table after hours of fermentation, baking, and prudent care reveals a sensation so satisfying that is becomes apparent why generation after generation, we as a human race continue on this arduous path of baking bread. It’s way more than flour, water, and salt. It’s a process and after embarking on my our sourdough journey, it is easy for me to appreciate its rewards.
I began this summer after my first semester away at school with an open mind and heart full of ambition. I would travel to exotic places, reconnect with friends from high school, whip out the Spanish Rosetta Stone to brush up on my language skills, and give bread baking another go. As my summer is nearing an end, I am happy to report that I have accomplished all of these goals minus adventuring out of the country. However, these tasks were not checked off with the same demeanor as I was expecting.
As soon as the real summer began, I found myself back at my coffee shop job, a gig I truly cherish endlessly. Keeping with the caffeinated theme, I also reunited with high school friends over cappuccinos and pourovers. Everything was going as plan. Yet simultaneously, everything was confusingly frustrating. I would tap Instagram’s colorful icon only to scroll through for hours, studying the images of my peers and their most recent vacations to destinations that had me yearning to do nothing more than purchase the next plane ticket to southern France. To say I was jealous would be an understatement. I convinced myself that their adventures were twice as fun as mine would ever be, their pictures displaying picturesque days in the sun and meals that embodied the likes of something off of Chef’s Table. My rational mind knew that there were filters and poses and curation behind the scenes, but I was nevertheless disillusioned by the beauty that rested before my eyes.
For the next few weeks, I settled into a profound funk. My glass-half-full disposition was overshadowed by a longing to be someone else, and in turn, a blanket of sadness covered my head. But there was a saving grace: bread.
So as millenials do in times of boredom,I hustled my way on over to Amazon to buy my way out of a tough time. A quick key word in the search bar led me to a results page of thousands of hits for a sourdough starter and a cookbook with all the nitty-gritty instructions for how to transform a fermented bag of slime-like substance into an artisanal loaf of bread. As skeptical as I was about the whole process, I was determined to see it through to the end and make something that was at least remotely edible. When I get frustrated, a flame is ignited in me that won’t cease until the deed is done. So the bread baking journey began.
I woke up each morning and “fed” my starter a hearty breakfast of equal parts flour and water and watched it rise throughout the course of the day. Before I went to bed, I returned to my newborn flour child and repeated the process. Day in and day out I fed it. I kneaded the dough. I baked the bread. I ate loaf after loaf. On most days, I was eating about half of a normal batch by myself, relishing in the delectable flavor and texture of a product in which I invested many of my waking hours. A staple ingredient in most households, bread, had become my main food group and also a life-giving passion. I shared my doughy creations with friends and family and even began to sell it in the coffee shop in which I worked. Slowly but surely, my feelings of inadequateness that had been imbued upon me by the double edged sword of social media began to fade. I was collecting all of the ingredients for a purpose filled mission once again.
So here I finally am. It is the end of summer and many a loaf have come out of my kitchen. In the process I have floured many outfits, unpacked an absurd amount of King Arthur's paper flour bags, and hand delivered carefully crafted loaves to close friends and family. I feel enlivened once again, armed with a lame for scoring in one hand and a fist full of flour in the other. I know that going into this next school year I will follow in the footsteps of the generations before me, kneading loaf after loaf, never to call a meal complete without a slice of fermented bread again.