I wrote this post a few days ago, about sourdough bread, and imperfection, and baking as a journey, rather than an instant gratifying result. And I have to say, I was somewhat caught up in my own process. Why couldn’t I get good pictures, why wasn’t the bread the way I wanted it to be, how could I make it understandable for folks who weren’t bakers. New blogger navel gazing, some of which is in the post, and some of which I MERCIFULLY cut from the final version.
I was hoping it might inspire a few folks to start playing with sourdough, and baking more generally. I bake for a lot of reasons, and to create food is just one of them: to relax, because it’s cold outside, because I don’t feel well and want to treat myself…but most of all, I love to bake for other people. Cook more generally, but there’s something about home baking that makes the people in your life feel cared for and treated. I’ve been very lucky to build a life where I get to cook for many many people I love on a regular basis. I am richly blessed in this.
And so I shared the post on FB, hoping it would reach more people. Little did I know it would encourage a good handful of women to share, NOT their experience with baking sourdough bread exactly, but the amazing connections in families of women, tied together by the history of stretchy, bubbly blobs of dough. Women talked about their starter like it was a family member, complete with joy, connection, and guilt. It was amazing, and I asked if I could share a few of them with all of you.
Jo reminisced that: “Growing up a military kid, who moved across the country every 2-3 years, I remember that my mother’s sourdough starter was the most important thing to care for during each move, second only to the kids and pets. Everything had to accommodate the sacred starter…when driving across the desert SW every time with no AC in the car, ice had to be added at every stop: protect the starter! When stationed in Alaska (I was 4&5 years old), her sourdough pancakes became legendary.“ And while the starter died in the 70s, while she was away at college, she calls back to her mom’s ‘sacred starter’ through other fermented goodies like kombucha.
When I read Karen’s story, this disconnected adoptee sat and literally cried at the computer: I have always considered my family’s sourdough starter as one of the central aspects of our matriarchy. We are not sure how far back it goes but my great-grandmother was born in 1868 and she used it during the entirety of my grandmother’s childhood. That was in Sweden. My grandmother and her sister brought it to Canada and both used it weekly while raising their children. Later, my mother and aunt brought it back to Sweden and then to the US in the 1930s.
My sisters and I were taught to use it and I have had mine since 1983. My older children were raised with it and now I use it with my younger children. All along the way, I and the women of my family have given starts to countless people along the way. In 1973, my grandmother and I tried to count how many countries it had traveled to. At that point, she estimated 26. I still have that original list. After my sister passed away in 2003, my mother and I took hers and divided it between us and added it back to ours. My mother gave her hers in 1968. After my mother passed away in 2012, I took hers and combined it with mine. Every time I use it, I think of it as the DNA of the women in my family.”
I have a conflicted relationship with my own generational ties of food and love, and yes…obligation to the women of my family of origin. At the same time, I am blessed to have passionate, strong, supportive ties to the women of my community, my heart’s ancestors and kin, with whom I share meals and comfort and struggle. This is echoed in the little pots of sourdough I’ve sent off with friends, so that a piece of my kitchen and the work of my hands can be shared between us. Right now, there’s sourdough drying on a pan in the sunroom (because you can dry it, and it keeps for a really long time, and you can send it in the mail!) to share with other women who reached out to me after that post. I love thinking that food will continue to connect us, even when we are separated by many miles.
A woman in my community died yesterday, far too young and shockingly sudden. I didn’t know her well, but many people I love were very close to her, and I am so sad for their grief and her loss. As always when grief shows up, an unannounced and unwelcome visitor, I wish I could sit them down and make them a meal, connecting by extension to the kitchens and hearts of my own little matriarchy of sourdough, the women I’ve cooked for and loved, and theirs, and theirs. We should all eat some fried chicken in her memory.
“Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased.” ~Spider Robinson
Until next time,