Let’s start this post off with a bit of a riddle…the thing I’m talking about can live for hundreds of years without aging, it stays in the dark and is only rarely taken out, you can trace its ancestry back hundreds of years, it needs to be fed a particular substance to stay alive, and you probably shouldn’t add garlic to it.
I’m talking about vampires, right?
Wrong – I’m talking about sourdough bread.
While all of us now know exactly what a sourdough starter is because COVID-19 happened and we all went through that ‘bread phase’, I initially learned what a sourdough starter was one night well before the pandemic when there was this Reddit thread that was talking about internet rabbit-holes. One of the most popular comments was about tracing the lineage of sourdough starters. The poster mentioned that someone had been using the same starter for all their sourdough loaves since the 1970s, who in turn got that starter from an even older starter that had been going strong for the past hundred years.
Sourdough Starters Have Ancestry
It’s kind of creepy, right? I was given a sourdough starter around October last year (the creepiest month, of course) and I have been dutifully feeding it flour and water for the past six months (kind of like Audrey II). I’ll be the first to admit that it’s unsettling to know that you have something in the fridge that is alive and I can trace its ancestry potentially further than I can trace my own.
Turns out that sourdough starters are a tradition in some families – some people have not just been feeding their sourdough starter for years, but their parents and grandparents have been feeding the same starter in all that time. I saw some comments in that thread that people are feeding sourdoughs after having been passed down for four generations. There’s even evidence of a 120-year-old sourdough starter up in the Yukon, having first travelled there in 1897 and it’s still going strong. It boggles the mind to realise that at some point, that starter was created from another older, more powerful starter somewhere else.
… just like a vampire!
The longevity of food is a bit of an interest of mine, as you can no doubt tell from my deep-dive on perpetual stew I did earlier this year. While this is, admittedly, a very niche culinary science, I think it’s absolutely fascinating. However, I’m not the only one who is super interested in the family trees and ancestry of sourdough – the Quest for Sourdough was created recently as a ‘library’ for sourdoughs to date them and break down their contents. While many starters listed on the site are undated, two of the oldest verified starters documented on the website are 105 years old. Think about that for a second – you can bake a loaf of bread today from the same source that baked a loaf of bread when Woodrow Wilson was the American president and the Battle of Verdun was being fought in France in World War I.
Extending the Sourdough Legacy
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am most definitely doing all that I can to ensure that the ‘Tayla Blaire’ sourdough starter sitting in my fridge reaches 200 years old. That is unless I manage to kill it from neglect first. Have you tried making your own sourdough? Can you trace its ancestry? Let me know and make sure you submit it to Quest for Sourdough!
Do you know what goes great with sourdough? Soup — especially tomato. Find your inspiration with these tomato-based soup recipes.