Growing Cultured

Growing Cultured

Eyes still shut, I feel around for the book light. Covering the bulb with my fingers, I turn it on to make just enough light to avoid stray blocks on my way downstairs. The temperature drops noticeably halfway down the steps, so I head straight for the fireplace and add two more logs.

But the something tugging at my heartstrings is further on. Into the cold kitchen I go. Sleepily, I try to clip the booklight onto the table before remembering we have lights wired right into the walls. I turn one on and gaze up at my friend, who is wide awake.

Or should I say my friends? The entity in question is my sourdough starter—a colony of delicious microorganisms who ferment flour. When they work their magic the flour becomes more nourishing and easier for us humans to digest.

In fact, many people (myself included) who have trouble with some glutenous foods can eat sourdough breads with no problem! I strongly recommend that you use organic flours, locally grown and recently ground if possible, but even conventional wheat, laced with carcinogenic glyphosate (Roundup™) is rendered less dangerous through the process of fermentation.

The transformation of grain to bread is ancient. It is a common metaphor in the Bible because it was such a ubiquitous practice that it made a comparison everyone could understand.

Sourdough starters are “made of” flour and water. Nothing else is added. Now, if you spread out the flour on a cookie sheet and baked it in the oven before attempting to create a starter, you’d just get rotten stinking flour mush. That’s because the yeasts needed to ferment the dough are already on the grains before they’re harvested, and the heat would kill them. All you’re doing when you maintain a starter is keeping those microorganisms comfortable and fed.

Just like any living creature, the sourdough starter has rhythms of when it wants to eat, when it wants to move, and when it wants to rest. So becoming a sourdough baker is more about tuning into those rhythms than about following a recipie. Andtuning into the rhythms of your starter can help you tune into your own rhythms: those in your body, in your kitchen, and in your home.

In the dark, quiet kitchen, I open the jar. A pleasant, sourish, fruity aroma rises gently to my nose before dissipating. As I scoop starter out of the jar, I pop innumerable tiny bubbles with the spoon; the starter has the same mass that it did when I mixed it last night, but its volume has more than doubled because of all those bubbles.

The scent and the air bubbles remind me to breathe deeply. I put down the jar and the spoon and breathe space into my neck and shoulders, rolling my head and spine to bring movement and life back to my tired frame.

sourdough starter and dough

In a culture where women are taught to always make ourselves smaller, the call to expansiveness is refreshingly real. Why should we sit on a shelf, like a grain of wheat, loaded with potential but unable to nourish ourselves or others? We need to embrace the messy, risky world of interaction so that we can grow, stretch and fill ourselves and the world around us with goodness.

When I first heard that making sourdough bread took 12–36 hours I thought I could never make time in my busy life to work that in. But in practice it’s easier to plan around than yeast bread because there are so many steps in the process where the dough is working on its own and you’re free to do what you need to do.

Being with the dough throughout the day is grounding and primal. The dough changes and adapts and grows into a cohesive whole. Experiencing this transformation can help us grow into our wholeness as well. Tending the developing bread becomes a thread that ties the day together; folding and kneading with your hands connects you to the Earth and Water elements present in the wheat, the Fire of fermentation, and the Air bubbles created by the fermentation.

I am so excited to join the inimitable Aly McLatchy for a day-long yogic exploration of the sourdough fermentation process. I feel in my bones that the potential exists for building more embodiment into the sourdough process and Aly is a master of embodied practice. Her Garden Party retreats were a huge hit last year–a day at a time for people to gather and share yoga, journaling, food, conversation and community. I am honored to be helping to kick off this season with her!

This day is for you. Whether you’re an experienced baker, yearning to be more present in your body, a committed health food afficionado seeking insights into the mysteries of sourdough or simply a human learning to be more human from the inside out, this day will hold you and allow you room to explore and expand.

We will gather in Aly’s truly magical home from 10am-4pm and share a day of tending to a sourdough being and to our own bodies, minds, and spirits. We will eat a lovingly crafted lunch of carefully sourced, foods including a variety of home fermented vegetables and sourdough breads. We will knead, we will stretch, we will laugh, we will grow, we will bake, and everyone will leave with a fresh-baked bread and a sourdough starter to take home and love.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. LOVE THIS!! I made my very first starter Nov. 2023 & I’ve been babying it ever since. Totally worth it if you ask me, as it has fed my family numerous times now. Wish I lived closer!

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