Naturally leavened bread is made from live sourdough cultures, yeast that is active and very much alive. Unlike packaged yeast, this living organism requires consistent temperature, feeding, and fresh air. Additionally, the location that the yeast is grown affects how quickly it rises and how much acid it produces, thus giving each culture a unique flavor and personality. Baked goods that use sourdough yeast tend to have a fuller flavor and are easier to digest because the yeast are given more time to break down the proteins in flour.
My sourdough is nearly five years old. It has lived in three different homes and continues to adjust to new places, people, music, pets, dust, lighting, and plant life. I commit to a routine by feeding it twice a day and using the excess to make a variety of baked goods. My daily work ensures the continued health of this small culture. In return it rises my bread, pizza, and pancakes.
I make bread for myself, but I also feed my community. Homemade bread is inexpensive – it requires only water, flour, and salt. The trade off is that a single loaf takes twenty-four hours to complete: six to eight hours to rise, three hours of kneading and mixing, twelve more hours of rising, and an hour to bake. While most of those steps are passive, they take planning and, if others are involved, coordination. And differences in temperature will affect that time and sometimes create a loaf that rises poorly or unevenly. A “perfect loaf” is rare without a bread mold.
But the completed sourdough loaves (or pizza, or muffins) are always honest, they always reflect their environment. Sometimes it’s user error from a missed feeding or incorrect oven setting, and sometimes the weather. If I feed my yeast regularly, then I eat better bread. If I treat my sourdough culture well, then my community receives well made bread.
This motivation has become a part of my practice. This yeast has become an extension of my body. The physical kneading and pressing fuses the glutinous fibers to my hands, chewy crust sticks to my teeth, my stomach absorbs nutrients and protein.
My community brings this sourdough to their homes. They upload pictures to social media. They use the slices in recipes, give them as gifts to family, freeze them for later. Across the city (and beyond), my sourdough body has spread.