Sourdough has been a part of my life for at least 20 years. There have been times when my starter was like a baby in our family. My first real cafe opened much later than I had anticipated, and I had to take my bucket of starter with me every where. It needed to be fed 4 times a day, and still does. I have tried other starters that are less high-maintenance, but they don’t show the vitality of this one. There is something satisfying about stirring in the water and flour and checking on it later and seeing the little volcanic bubbles rise and erupt. It is a living organism and I had a big part in its creation.
Just before we opened Adama, I was nursing my starter back to life and had to take it with me whenever I left the house for more than a few hours. I went to the 24 hour fitness on Canon Perdido and left my car in the valet parking. I told the attendant to be careful of the little bucket on the passenger seat and told him what it was. A year later, not having parked there since, I went back, and the attendant asked me if I had my starter with me. There are worse things to be remembered for.
We had a lovely family of artists, well-known in Santa Barbara, as customers for my cafe in Carpinteria. One day the matriarch of the family brought me a little pot of sourdough starter. She told me that her niece, a bakery/restaurant owner about my age, had passed away. She had flown to the state where the niece had lived, perhaps Colorado, I cannot recall, and helped to dismantle the bakery. She brought her niece’s starter home, hoping to keep it alive. I understood. It is a very personal thing. There are not many living things that a person tends to 4 times a day for years that don’t greet you with love when you walk through the door. My starter is an intrinsic part of my life, and an important consideration any time I make plans to be away for more than a day.
My dear customer had made a valiant attempt to bring the starter back to life, with no success. “Deeahna, do you think you could try?” she asked me forlornly. How could I refuse. I fed it four times a day for a week or so, until it was pungent and full of belching craters. Then I took out the amount she had given me, and the rest I poured into my own starter. When my customer came in, I returned to her the now-viable starter and said, “I took some of it and mixed it into my own. Please know that as long as I am a baker, your niece, my sister-baker, will have a part in my bread-baking and her starter will live on.” She teared up, and often as I am driven to annoyance at the inconvenience of it all, I am reminded of the blessing of being alive and able to enjoy fragrant, tart, crusty, chewy, warm sourdough bread.