“What was your favorite food as a kid?” Jess asked me while she pulled the cork out of our first bottle of Malbec.
She knows this is a loaded question. She knows me too well. I love food. She also hears me tell childhood stories of my mother singing in the kitchen to the wild canaries in her sunny orange kitchen while cooking up everything from scratch all the time.
The safe short answer is easily sourdough.
My mother stirred up and fermented many different sourdough starters all my life. One sourdough came from Skaagway, Alaska, another from Nome, Alaska. Others she got from acquaintances or started on her own with flour she thought would make excellent sourdough. She reminded me of a red-headed gnome scientist. She really did. Cheerful with round shiny cheeks and twinkly laughing eyes, she experimented all the time.
Growing up on freshly baked sourdough breads and pancakes, I learned which ones I liked best for pancakes and which ones I liked best for bread, and that, my dear, is a personal preference of course.
I like the Skaagway best for bread, though it makes fine pancakes, literally. The bubbles tend to be finer with the Skaagway stuff. The Nome sourdough makes the best pancakes, with big airy bubbles and a tang reminiscent of Swedish pancakes. I can say this because I grew up eating both Swedish pancakes at Al Johnson’s on a regular basis, and my mother’s sourdough pancakes almost daily.
I know I’m spoiled. I lived a great life on 40 acres of heaven in an all cedar house with a mom who constantly had something in the oven. She cooked and baked like an army of starving teenagers would arrive at any moment. God forbid they leave her house hungry. It’s a wonder I’m not obese, really. We ate a lot of food. A lot of good food. And the sourdough was part of many meals and snacks. Oh we snacked all day long. That’s what made school so unbearable with it’s rigid schedule. I got so hungry I could never concentrate very well in class. I could never say I was a stellar student. But if my Dad ever had to come to school to relay a message (remember this was before cell phones) during the lunch hour, the kids would tell him I was most likely in the cafeteria getting seconds.
We ate leftover sourdough pancakes with peanut butter and jelly all rolled up. We’d eat sourdough toast, grill up sourdough cheese sandwiches, or use slices of sourdough to mop up the yumminess left on our plates from whatever barbecue or stew or casserole or whatever tasty meal.
“Wow. That’s a lot of carbs, Girl!”
Whatever. I love bread and pancakes and scones and pasta… I love it all, but sourdough takes the cake. Ha! I didn’t mean a pun there. Could you please fill my glass again too? Thanks.
Back before we learned about cholesterol… Remember that? When cholesterol was like this new phenomenon that felt like this looming plague. Oh no! Cholesterol kills! I still don’t believe there is conclusive evidence to prove that high “bad” cholesterol equates to certain death by heart attack, but whatever. I can talk because I have stellar cholesterol. But regardless, back before we cared about all that, Mom used to southern fry chicken in a deep electric skillet and then make a white gravy out of the drippings, with lots of pepper, it was so good, and we’d pour it all over a pile of torn up pieces of sourdough bread. Oh God I miss that. I haven’t had that in so, so long.
“Wow, so you really ate fresh baked sourdough every day?”
Pretty much. I remember waiting with my sister for the bread to finally come out of the oven. Mom would make sure we had butter mashed up with honey or molasses on our plates first. So when the loaves came out, I’d call “Heal!” and I would smear my molasses butter on the hot steaming crusty heal of sourdough fresh out of the oven. It was the best.
“That sounds dreamy! I want to make sourdough. But not really. I don’t want the responsibility of keeping it alive. I’d kill the starter and Id feel bad. I have enough on my plate, I don’t need another project.”
We laugh because that’s an understatement and we toast.
Yes, I have Nome sourdough sitting temporarily dormant in the back of my ‘fridge. I want to make sourdough.
Pancakes anyone? Hell, it’s my birthday weekend. Why not? Pancakes and red wine. Hmmm, we’ll have to get some brie and honest-to-goodness Scottish marmalade, don’t you think?
Assignment: Let your favorite childhood meal inspire you. Something that was a treat or resembled ‘celebration,’ or something that comforted you. Write about it in your voice as if you were sharing this over coffee (or wine) with your friend.