The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

the starter has reawakened!

Ziege's picture
Ziege

the starter has reawakened!

I returned to the US a few weeks ago from a year living abroad in France as an exchange student, and it is interesting to be back. I am full of memories of the Mediterranean landscape and mes pensées often drift to the days that I spent biking up the Mont Ventoux and eating dinner with my host family, who thought that I was crazy for baking my own bread ("You call that bread?! That looks more like a moist brick to me!" my host dad would call out) and for biking 12 miles to get to school every day. I could ramble about my past year's experience for hours, but instead I'll spare you tales of coed bathrooms (that was a surprise...my first day of high school in France when I discovered that young men and women share les toilettes) and my first encounter with modern dance and write about something a little more related to this blog: the plight of my sourdough starter in France, and its revival aux Etats-Unis.


August 2009, my starter embarked for its first voyage out of the US. Packed in a tupperware container, and sheathed in multiple plastic bags labeled "sourdough starter for making bread" (I feared that the airport officials would confiscate my suspicious-looking container full of ooze), it boarded the flight at San Francisco. And many, many hours later, we arrived together in Montpellier, France. That would be the end of our amicable friendship. As the months went by, I would feed my starter with French (T 150) flour just as I had in America, however it seemed to become less and less responsive. On its fiestiest of days, bubbles the size of strawberry seeds would form; otherwise, the starter was about as active as my neighbor, who sat in front of the TV all day and complained that the day was too long. 24 heures- c'est trop longue! At least he had an excuse. He was in his eighties, whereas my starter was less than a year old. So, needless to say, my bread that i produced from the starter was quite dense and multiple times I had to make a loaf or two of yeast bread to raise my confidence in my bread-making abilities. Not that there's anything wrong with yeast-risen bread, but I had been trying for months to make good bread with my sourdough starter.


 


 


Here's what a typical slice of my 100% whole wheat bread that I made in France looked like:


 



(in the background you can see my sprouting avocado plant)


 


Needless to say, France was not too impressed by my bread baking skills. Oh, I exagerate. A few good loaves came out of that starter that had journeyed so far- in particular, one walnut loaf that I assume was tasty as I left it on the counter at a friend's house and when I went looking for it a few hours later, the loaf was gone and in its place was a dusting of crumbs.


 


July 2010- as I packed up my bags (the night before my flight), I wrapped up my starter, still in that same tupperware container, and this time labeled the bag with, "levain pour faire du pain/sourdough starter". This label was partially for airport security, and served in addition for the starter itself, who I think had forgotten that it was supposed to be a leavening agent and was considering itself instead as some sort of sauce bechamel gone rancid. Anyway, a few connecting flights and plane meals later, I arrived home. Home! After a year of struggling to remain a vegetarian in le pays du foie gras and a year of daily adventure, I was home. It was sad and nice at the same time. I immediately rummaged through my suitcase to verify that the levain hadn't been confiscated- and sure enough- it was still there! I fed it with some Stone Buhr flour (which my local supermarket doesn't carry anymore...darn!), and went off to visit my friends whom I hadn't seen for nearly a year. When i got back the next morning, I was blown away by the activity of my starter. It had actually doubled in size! And there were bubbles not the size of blackheads, but the size of popcorn kernels! Wow! I've been making bread since my return, and I have been more than satisfied with the results.


 


Here's a walnut loaf:


 



 


and here's a plain loaf:


 



 


that are both 100% whole wheat (of course).


 


I am puzzled by the inactivity of my starter in France- the only possible hypothesis is that my starter simply didn't pick up the French language like I did, and so the American yeasts were unable to communicate with the French yeasts. Sacre bleu! In any case, my starter is thriving and well back on top of the microwave at home, and the bread is much lighter and tastier. And thanks to Minioven- who instructed me to "clean the cage" when it comes to feeding a starter. I had posted a blog back when I was in France complaining about the sluggishness of my starter, and she emphasized the importance of dumping out half of the starter at each feeding, and increasing the amount of flour that I was nourishing my starter with. I think that these two pieces of advice have helped a lot.


Comments

turosdolci's picture
turosdolci

I recognize the experiences you had in your year in France.  I moved to Switzerland from Boston some 20 years ago and the first year was a real learning experience along with many surprises.  The pictures you have are all so familar to me as I just returned from the South of France and it is very hard to wals past all the wonderful foods and markets and pastries. Your pictures are beautiful and I'm sure all of the breads and pastries are also.  You will miss your French home, but the eperience will live with you forever.  Both of my children spent time studying in France and England and they consider these countries their second home.


Good Luck,


Patricia

Ziege's picture
Ziege

Wow- do you live in the French-speaking region of Switzerland? And did you happen to visit Montpellier while you were in the south of France? I lived very close to Montpellier.


 


Claire


Pickers's picture
Pickers

Although I am of course interested in your bread making antics I must ask about your exchange. I myself am looking to live in France for a year after finishing school and would like to know if you got what you wanted out of the trip? and any advice you could pass on to someone looking to do something similar.

Ziege's picture
Ziege

What program are you planning on going with? I participated in the Rotary exchange program which was a great experience. As for your question regarding if I got what I wanted out of the trip, the answer is an emphatic yes. The experience of developing fluency in a foreign language, creating friendships with people who pronounce your first name in a way that will certainly charm you (only in the south of France does "Claire" have two syllables), and signing yourself up for various bands/sports activites/town events to get into the culture and meet others is an experience that is unique to spending a year in a foreign country where you arrive knowing absolutely no one...if you have any specific questions feel free to email me at: claire.erialc.claire "at sign" gmail.com (I refrain from typing "@" to avoid spammers. "At sign" is said "arrobase" in French by the way)


 


Claire


Pickers's picture
Pickers

I am not looking at a program, there is not such a thing to my knowledge in England. After I finish school I plan to live and work in France. I have partaken in a week long exchange so I have experienced some of the life before.

Fred41's picture
Fred41

I feel your pain (lo siento) but also enjoyed your story ... you have a way with words that conjures up a mental vision in a most enlightening way ... 


While I've made a few loaves of bread in my time I'm quite new at sourdough (baked my first loaf a couple days ago) however research causes me to wonder if perhaps the starter differences you experienced aren't the result of different types of flour (or flour standards) in each country ... ie ... and analogy might be initially feeding a starter with rye flour to commence the process (more yeast action with rye flour) then changing to another type of flour (wholewheat, all purpose white, etc) once the starter has 'taken hold'.


This isn't advice but simply thoughts from a "newbie" ... there are folks on this site who have much, much more starter experience than I ...


Thanks again for the story ...


Cheers!


 


      The Bannockmeister

Ziege's picture
Ziege

I agree...I'm sure that it's a tale of different flours...although the starter had many many months to "acclimate" to the new farine...


Good luck with your sourdough!


 


Claire


diverpro94's picture
diverpro94

Wow! I'm looking into doing student exchange in England for my Senior year of high school. I really would like to bring my wonderful starter along. Also, like you, I am also a vegetarian. What were your experiences being a vegetarian in Europe? How did it go living with a meat eating family?


I've kind of been spoiled because my parents (they do eat meat) are very supportive of me being vegetarian. I've grown up in a SDA home, so being vegetarian is very easy and normal.

Ziege's picture
Ziege

I apologize for taking a while to respond...as for my experience being a vegetarian in France, I can tell you that I met only one other vegetarian during my entire year abroad, and I adapted my diet to the circumstances...when I had left America, my diet was practically vegan, however that was impossible in the land of fromage and beaucoup de French dishes involve cream/eggs/milk so the veganism went out the window, and I also started eating fish a few months into my exchange as my host family and the families that I met were experiencing difficulties coming up with vegetarian dishes. Also, I was in France to learn about a foriegn culture (which includes its typical dishes), so I decided to draw the line at meat that walked on legs but try all their wild cheeses. In France, eating cheese is like eating vegetables anyway (just check out all that furry vegetation...never mind that it's of the kingdom Fungi and not Plantae). So to answer your question, it is possible to remain a vegetarian, but keep in mind that some individuals may be offended by your "refusual to eat meat"...the mindset in California's Bay Area (where I am from) regarding vegetarianism differs greatly with that of France's.


 


My interest is perked- what is a "SDA home"?



diverpro94's picture
diverpro94

Thanks for your post! SDA means Seventh Day Adventist. Many SDA people are vegetarian because we believe in keeping the body and spirit healthy. If you go to one of our potlucks, you will see that no meat is served.

PanDulce's picture
PanDulce

Diverpro94


I'm currently living in the UK. While I'm not a vegetarian myself I know a lot of people who is. People here is very respectful about the ways others eat. Everything is properly labeled (in restaurants and supermarkets) and I've found that the variety of vegetarian dishes here is very good. I've even learnt to prepare some vegetarian dishes for me! Good luck!

diverpro94's picture
diverpro94

Thanks PanDulce! Even if I don't get to go over to England as a FES, some day I'll go! My family moved from Norwich, England in the early 1600's, so I'll be pretty much the first person in my family to go back.