I am not a cook, believe me. But even us non-cooks can discover the joys of sour dough, a culture used as a live agent for making bread. Keep a batch in your kitchen, use half the batch to make your own yummy bread, then add a little flour and water to the remaining half to renew the ongoing starter culture.
The starter culture never runs out. It’s brilliant. There’s no packaging and you get to practice mindfulness of the environment, the planet that supports us. I’ve found that as well as benefiting health, budget and taste buds, making my own sour dough bread reduces my carbon footprint.
Consider this: England exports roughly as much wheat as it imports, and American roughly as much beef as it imports. That’s a lot of unnecessary carbon emissions to fuel global warming. Potatoes from the UK are sent to Thailand to be washed then back to the UK to be sold. The average pound of food in America travels 1,200 miles before it reaches the kitchen table, and the total food miles of the ingredients in a pot of German yogurt totals over 6,000 miles—even though all are available within 50 miles.
How crazy is that. Now think of how many loaves of bread you’ve purchased over your lifetime and where all those ingredients have come from, how many miles they’ve travelled. When all that time you could have been easily making your own bread from sour dough, an alternative culture to packet yeast. Easily, I promise. Remember, I am not a cook.
I make flat bread rather than a loaf because I prefer not using an oven. I roll the dough out flat (using a bottle as a rolling pin) and roast it on a lightly-oiled pan. My sour dough journey began when I was at my friend Lindy’s one day while she was tending her sour dough culture. She reassured me it was easy, easy, easy to do and my ears pricked up because I was looking for an alternative to an addiction for the toasted supermarket wrap.
I’d been buying packet-loads of supermarket wraps, folding them and filling one half with a favourite filling, whacking it in a frypan, turning it over when golden to roast the other side and whammo, instant snack.
The toasted wrap makes a great breakfast (after decades of muesli it’s a refreshing change). The toasted wrap makes a good lunch: I load it with roasted marinated eggplant and capsicum with feta cheese that melts delightfully as the wrap heats. The toasted wrap made a great snack anytime- I have to confess that I was eating an awful lot of toasted wraps.
In fact I was eating so many toasted wraps that our garbage was clogging from the amount of plastic wrapper generated. And I was throwing out every fourth raw wrap, beware: try and find a brand that is not heat sealed. When heat sealed, you will find (using your mindfulness of seeing) that the top and bottom layers carry a film of melted plastic. Not an ideal substance to ingest.
(While I’m on the subject, look out for a film of plastic on the many heat-sealed items that enter your kitchen: a block of cheese, for example, or a block of tofu or pre-prepared pizza. It’s everywhere. You can shave off the plastic film with a sharp knife.)
Way too many empty wrap packets. Something had to change.
When Lindy gave me my first sour dough starter I was dubious. But I took it home, mixed it with a little plain flour as she suggested (sour dough needs gluten to activate) plus half that amount of water and sat the mixture overnight- sour dough needs time to activate. You‘ve got to think mindfully ahead. The container can’t be sealed or the activated culture will pop the lid off. Danger: potentially explosive substance. I cover mine with a chux held in place with an elastic band so it can breathe.
Food that breathes, that’s cool.
With excitement and trepidation, I lifted the covering the next morning: yes, the culture had expanded overnight! I kneaded it up, adding more flour to get a playdough-like consistency. Not too wet, not too dry. Kneading is a beautiful thing to do. It feels very human and traditional: it feels right. You do it until the dough becomes elastic and you can even hear it breathing, a little shhhhh sound.
I then break off a chunk, make a ball half the size of my fist, punch it flat on a floured breadboard and roll it thinner with my bottle (actually the first time I rolled with a full mini coke can my son had left on the bench. Worked like a charm).
Heat up a frypan, drizzle in a trickle of oil (I prefer olive oil), add the flat piece of dough, brown it and turn it and hey presto. I couldn’t believe it was so simple. Sour dough, where have you been all my life?
The benefits: (1) no more plastic wrappers. Big sigh of relief; (2) no more preservatives; (3) better quality ingredients, so better nutrition; (4) even more delicious than the shop-bought wrap. Much more so; (5) hugely less expense; (6) personal achievement and satisfaction: that gets a big tick in the positive psychology box.
Best of all, the process is self-sustaining. The culture grows and grows by itself when you feed it with a little flour (see link). That means you never have to buy more culture in the way I had to buy a whole new packet of wraps every time I’d eaten four. It’s miraculous, it’s brilliant. It’s the way life used to be!
Thank you for reading. You know what I’m going to do now, don’t you. I’m going to slip into the kitchen, pull a chunk off the big ball of glad-wrapped dough waiting in the fridge, flatten it out, throw it in the oil-drizzled frypan, roast it and add my favourite topping.
Slurp, slurp, swallow. Ahhh.