This starter is more than just a bubbly concoction, it is a piece of history. I hope that you will want to take the leap and jump into a new (or rather, very old) way of making delicious bread. Sourdough not only has health benefits, it tastes amazing and making it is very satisfying. When I opened the lid on my dutch oven to peek at that first loaf I made, I felt like a proud parent. Silly, but true!
My sourdough starter (who I have named Betsy) is a vibrant bubbly starter that has been alive since at least 1847 and was brought on the Oregon Trail. Here is the story I was given when I received my starter in the mail back in 2013. The excerpt was written by Carl Griffith, the man who made it his goal to share his family’s sourdough starter with as many people as possible, in 1996. He later passed away in 2000 at the age of 80.
“All I know is that it started west in 1847 from Missouri with the family of Dr. John Savage. One of his daughters (my great grandmother) was the cook. They came out west and settled near Salem Oregon. Doc Savage’s daughter met and married my great-grandfather on the trail and they had 10 children. It was passed on to me though my parents when they passed away. I am 76 years old so that was some time ago. I first learned to use the starter in a Basque sheep camp when I was 10 years old as we were setting up a homestead on the Steens Mountains in southeastern Oregon. A campfire has no oven, so the bread was baked in a Dutch Oven in a hole in the ground in which we had built a fire, placed the oven, scraped in the coals from around the rim, and covered with dirt for several hours. I used it later making bread in a chuck wagon on several cattle drives – again in southeastern Oregon. Considering that the people at that time had no commercial starter for their bread, I do not know when it was first caught from the wild or where, but it has been exposed to many wild yeasts since and I like it. I hope you enjoy it.”
From his story, we know the starter is almost 200 years old! It is likely older than 1847 if
it was already well developed when brought on the trail. I love that what I do daily with this starter is intertwined with the history of our country. It is an age old tradition and a surreal connection with times past. Sourdough, for me, was the gateway into traditional woodworking, traditional bowhunting, and learning to live as self sufficient lifestyle as possible. I realized in the process of making bread that there was a refining to be gained in doing things the old way, the harder way, that takes more time and effort and knowledge. There are no shortcuts in sourdough! Still, it is as easy as flour, water, salt, and time.