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Beyond Baltimore: End of the Road Sourdough, Part 1

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Moose still grazed in the side yard when I last visited Karen Cauble’s Skyline B&B, on the road above Homer, Alaska. A big cow with a calf made a lively greeting when we drove up to spend the night. As I stepped out of the car, the cow and I sort of startled each other. It was after dark and I was kind of swirly-headed anyway from the home-made Asian pear wishnick at the Oriental restaurant. Getting tipsy and bumping into momma moose seemed a proper Homer sort of experience.

We ate breakfast looking out into country that stretched, mostly untouched, for miles. In a very real sense, we were dining on the frontier. It was fitting that sourdough bread was a part of our meal. In Alaska, a "sourdough" is the name accorded to someone who has lived "in country" long enough to develop a certain patina of ruggedness and self-reliance. Cooking with sourdough is both an art and a social grace. Karen Cauble, our B&B keeper and former Anchorage social worker and part time Yukon River barge cook, explains in her book 33 Days Hath September:

"It is said that 'the older the starter, the better.' I use a 30-year-old sourdough starter given to me by Betsy Hart of Fairbanks, who brought it from [the town of] Ruby where she used it to feed her guests at the Ruby Roadhouse on the Yukon River. In the ongoing frontier tradition, I shared my starter with…other cooks. However, if you cannot find someone with a living sourdough starter, you can create your own."

Sourdough Starter

1 tablespoon or 1 package active dry yeast

2 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees) water

1 tablespoon sugar, brown sugar, or honey

1/2 cup nonfat dry milk

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

2 cups all purpose flour

Combine 1/2-cup warm water, sweetener [sugar, brown sugar, or honey], and yeast. Stir nonfat dry milk into the remaining warm water and add the cider vinegar. Combine the yeast and milk mixtures, adding the flour. Beat until smooth [in a non-metal bowl]; cover with cheesecloth or clean, old nylon stockings. Allow the mixture to ferment at room temperature for five days. Stir the mixture down maybe two or three times a day. The starter is ready to use or it may be stored on the sixth day.

For more recipes and more of Reed Hellman’s signature culinary adventures, visit his Website at www.reedhellmanwordsmith.com/. You can follow his monthly columns in Recreation News and read his feature articles in Business Monthly.

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