Why I am keeping stinky bacteria in my kitchen on purpose.

Well, I am an obsessive bread lady. This was my most recent bread:


Then, three days ago, I made a wild yeast sourdough starter using this method.

For those who don’t bake bread yet, a starter is a bubbling vat of raw dough that you keep sitting around your house or in your refrigerator. You don’t keep this disgusting mixture because you’re gross, or because you’re trying to audition for Hoarders. You keep it because you put some of this raw dough into new, fresh batches of bread dough or other dough to give it a flavor base, much like you sauté onions and garlic when you make a tomato sauce base for pasta. You need a flavor base so the pasta doesn’t taste bland and boring; pasta doesn’t flavor itself. It’s the same with dough. Making a straight dough, or a fresh batch of dough, will result in a loaf of bread that tastes just fine out of the oven, but tastes like chewy air as it ages. Using a starter will result in depth of flavor that helps your bread to last longer and have a deeper and more complex flavor.

A starter is nothing more than a certain mixture of flour and water, that starts bubbling after awhile because bacteria begin to grow in there, and eating the starch in the flour.

No. This is too confusing and strange. Bacteria? Starch? WTF. Let’s start over.

You’re a corn farmer, with a field of corn. The bacteria (yeast cells) are raccoons that come in the night (they prefer warm nights) and eat the corn (the starch in the flour) off the cornstalks (the proteins in the flour). As you keep feeding the raccoons with the corn, they grow and make babies and get more mature. You take these raccoons, skin them and kill them off and make raccoon soup.

Yeah, that analogy became somewhat violent, but you get the picture. So I made a starter. I blended a cup of flour and a cup of water in a plastic bin, then let it sit for two days. I opened the bin and looked at it today to find bubbly patches and got excited.

Until I almost passed out from the smell. Apparently, the first stages of a fermenting starter include the growth of a really vile bacteria called leuconostoc. It’s the stuff that forms before the yeast, which is what I’m trying to cultivate – that’s what will eventually settle into the mixture and eat the starches in the yeast. If you’re the cornfield farmer, this bacteria is like aphids eating up the corn until the raccoons find it and devour everything.

I’m comforted that this phase will pass, because my bin currently smells like baby puke, or adult puke, or rotten sauerkraut. And I hate sauerkraut, so that should say enough.

But even this stinky phase is amazing. I’m building food from nothing.



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