05 Jul 2014
As it turns out, I’m not so good at keeping things alive. Birds, hamsters, kittens and that garter snake I left in the sun; every one of my childhood pets met a tragic end. My backyard is filled with the bones of long-dead dogs and one beloved cat. The pots on the back porch boast the skeletal remains of various herbs and vegetables I planted with great expectation. I’m still surprised that my children survived early childhood – not an accidental electrocution or drowning in the bunch. Still, I felt a sense of apprehension when the 167 year-old sourdough starter arrived with carefully printed instructions for its revival and maintenance.
The enclosed pamphlet details the starter’s impressive heritage and celebrates its champion Carl Griffith, whose sourdough culture has been passed on nearly 40,000 times. In his honor, I print CARL with a permanent marker on the side of the tub I’m intending to revive the starter in.
I’m skeptical as hell. It’s just a few flakes, off-white in color and crumbling to the touch. I mix it with flour, water and sugar, then leave it out on the counter overnight. Every day for the next two weeks, I feed it. First, just white flour and water. Then some rye flour, a little apple cider vinegar and a pinch or two of potato flakes. And the thing is, the crazy thing is, it is alive.
I make J and Mouse look it. I call my mother and tell her to come over. I’m so fucking proud of this smelly little science experiment that everyone who graces our doorstep for the first month has to peek into the Carl’s little plastic tub and get a whiff of what he’s got going on. I, who am lousy at keeping things alive has an ancient sourdough culture bubbling and growing on the counter in my kitchen and there is somehow something hopeful in that.
[For the price of a self-addressed stamped-envelope. you can get your own bit of Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter through the "Friends of Carl".]