Sourdough 101

Tues July 7, 4 to 8 pm: Get your bread fresh from the oven
Wed July 8, 9 and 9:30 am: Bread delivered to Quesnel: Green Tree Health & Wellness and Bouchie Lake Country Store
Wed July 8, 4 to 8 pm: Pizza Night! (Choice #1: chorizo sausage, garlic scapes, sun-dried tomatoes. Choice #2: Swiss chard, red onions, asiago cheese)
Sat July 11, 8:30 am to 1 pm: Quesnel Farmer’s Market
Sun July 12, 9 am to 1 pm: First Wells Farmer’s Market of 2015 – Fresh scones, hot coffee, delicious granola!

We get a lot of questions about sourdough bread. Here are a few facts as I know them:

1. The term “sourdough” can mean different things. We at The Bread Peddler use it to describe our gooey mixture of equal portions (by weight) of water and flour which contains precious wild yeasts and bacteria. When I originally made this sourdough starter 6 or 7 years ago, I didn’t add anything else – the yeasts and bacteria are naturally present on/in the flour. Sourdough is used in different ways, with different proportions of water and flour, and goes by different terms:  “sponge”, “starter”, “chef”, “levain”, “desem”,  “sauerteig”. I keep two starters fed and exercised: a wheat one made of white flour and water, and a rye one made of whole-grain rye flour and water.

2. Humans have been making and eating bread in one form or another for 6000 years. In the last 150 years bread and bread-making has been transformed by two things: the ubiquitous use of commercial baker’s yeast and steel roller mills used for making white flour whiter than ever. Commercial baker’s yeast contains only one strain of yeast which is very good at producing gas quickly, making the baker’s job less labour and time-intensive. Leavening bread with the wild yeasts and bacteria in a sourdough takes longer, is more laborious, and is less consistent, but it creates bread with more flavour, and more accessible nutrients. In the long fermentation process that is sourdough bread making, enzymes present in the wheat and other grains are activated by the multiple strains of yeasts and bacteria working in conjunction with each other. These enzymes help break down the complex structures of the grains – starches, sugars, proteins, minerals – making them more available and useful to our digestive systems. Unrelated to sourdough, but still an important consideration, the use of steel roller mills has succeeded in making white flour less nutritious: they very effectively strip the bran, germ and aleurone layers of the grain kernels away, leaving just the endosperm – mostly starch – behind. The roller mills are essentially “devitaminization machines” (the term used by William Alexander in his book 52 Loaves), meaning that the white flour they produce must be enriched with vitamins before it is sold.

3. Bread labelled “sourdough” from a commercial bakery often is leavened using predominantly commercial baker’s yeast, with a bit of powdered or liquid “sourdough” added for flavour. This bread will have none of a true sourdough bread’s other beneficial qualities. We buy our grain and flour from a commercial bakery supply company. They have a 60-page, 2 columns-per-page catalogue of bakery supplies, only 12 of which we can choose from: “organic” is not a common word in the catalogue. But there are several fake sourdough products: sourdough bread mixes, for making “no-time” sourdough breads, and liquid sourdough flavourings, “designed to improve taste and flavour”, not to mention the bake-and-serve “authentic” sourdough breads in the frozen products section of the catalogue.

4. Breads made with stone-ground whole-grain flours and leavened with sourdough culture are tastier and better for you. Period. Michael Pollan, in his latest book Cooked, says this: “…now that science has given us a belated understanding of all that a sourdough fermentation can do to render grass seed so nourishing and tasty, we can only marvel that we have so blithely abandoned it, for no good reason other than our impatience…”

17 kg of ripe sourdough - the wild yeasts and bacteria in there are busy making gases and tasty compounds to leaven and liven up our Bread Peddler breads.
Approximately 17 kg of sourdough – ready to start making dough after ripening overnight. The wild yeasts and bacteria in there are busy making gases and tasty compounds to leaven and liven up our Bread Peddler breads.

Blah-di-blah. On to the fun stuff. Tim and I hiked up Two Sisters Mountain on the Summer Solstice. We stayed overnight, fed the bugs, hiked the second sister, ate a pasta dinner, and relaxed.

On top of the second sister, with the rain swirling around us.
On top of the second sister, with the rain swirling around us. It didn’t get us!


What bugs?
What bugs?


Fetching water in the saddle between the two summits of Two Sisters Mountain.
Fetching water in the saddle between the two summits of Two Sisters Mountain, the Cariboo Mountains in the background. What bugs?


The Bread Peddler peddling his wares at The Quesnel Farmer's Market.
The Bread Peddler peddling his wares at The Quesnel Farmer’s Market. Not a gluten-free loaf to be seen!

In other news, last week the stars aligned and Canada Day and The Bread Peddler’s Pizza Night both fell on Wednesday: we were prepared for a busy evening and a busy evening it was! We made dough for 104 pizzas and there was none left at the end of the evening. One pizza ended up in the fire, and two balls of dough ended up on the floor, so that’s a total of 101 edible pizzas. Our friend Deb helped us take orders, package pizzas and collect money. We borrowed a picnic table and (partially) levelled a bit of ground outside the bakery – I never did get a chance to go out there and chat, but the sounds of laughter and talking assured me it was used and appreciated all evening long. Our cozy inside seating for three just isn’t enough in the summer! No photos exist unfortunately, we were too busy.

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