This is the Story of the Bread, as I promised on Facebook.
The word for a sourdough starter in Finnish is juuri, meaning a root. It always refers to rye bread. I like the word root, as it refers to something deep down, something in the past, something that has always existed, been around forever. Roots grow and from roots things grow. It refers to tradition and heritage.
A friend of mine has root dating back to the 1850’s. Another one once said their root is over 400 years old. These roots are treasured and handed down from one generation to another generation to a third and fourth and fifth, also given as gifts to good friends.
Starter? You read food magazines and cook books and the process is quite a… quite a circus for the want of a better word. In addition to water, sometimes filtered, and flour ground in a very specific way, you need raisins, or apples or honey, you need to feed them, discard some and feed some more, you almost have to read bedtime stories to them and sing lullabies. I’ve even heard of starter hotels where they care for your starter while you’re on holiday.
When I was a little girl I used to watch my father’s mother, Tyyne, make rye bread. That was many decades ago, my recollections are more than vague. Tyyne made amazing rye bread. I know I will never measure up to her, but I can enjoy myself while trying.
My root is about thirty years old. A city girl, I made it myself and please don’t ask me how. I don’t remember, it never occurred to me to make a note of it. It never even occurred to me to ask whether any of Tyyne’s root was still somewhere. I wonder how old her root was?
I just made it. Water, rye, time. I baked rye bread with this root. I liked it. My parents liked it. Mother did think it was too bit much trouble as it would never be what it really should be because an electric oven doesn’t compare with a wood heated oven. At the time I agreed with her. Father said it reminded him of rye bread baked by a neighbour of theirs in Karelia, where women would sometimes swap breads to bring more variety into their family’s daily diet.
I put the root into my freezer and haven’t used it since. The thought of reviving it has been on my mind for years, but baking anything with a root takes time, albeit much of it passive. But you do need to look after it.
A month ago I finally took the root out of the freezer and let it thaw overnight. I added water and rye flour. Nothing happened. When I originally made the root I distinctly remember the fresh fragrance of rye which greeted me every time I came home and just made me thoroughly happy. This time – nothing. It didn’t bubble either, but it didn’t seem off either. It had a slight fragrance of cider which may or may not be odd. It was full moon and that’s good for the root and for baking bread. Before, I didn't know about baking and the lunar phases, but this time I did my research.
Some instructions tell you to cover the root, others tell you to leave it open to whatever floats in the air. I tried both, but still nothing seemed to happen. I finally put it in a glass jar, left it there for a day before putting it into the fridge. The moon was waning by this time so I decided to wait until the moon was on the wax again. By the time I did put the root into the fridge, it started to look and behave as I thought it was supposed to. I opened the lid of the glass jar and felt some gas escape.
Last Sunday I took some of my root into a bowl, added some warm water and rye and covered it. On Monday morning I saw it had bubbled. Good! I added about ½ litre of water, one tablespoon of sea salt and about 13 dl rye. According to one recipe after about six to seven hours I would be able to roll it into a loaf and leave it to rise. This meant I should have been able to continue after I came home from luncheon with sibs and cousins, but nothing had happened.
The following morning the dough had doubled in size. I spilled it onto the table and – it was glue. Not enough flour. I should have trusted my fingers. I had to add more rye and leave it in peace overnight. So, on Wednesday morning I was able to spill the dough onto the table again and this time I was able to form it into a loaf and leave it to rise. Tyyne’s loaves had a conical shape to them. Mine was pretty flat. Rye bread is ready for the oven when the top looks “crackled”. About an hour, according to the recipe. After three hours I said enough is enough and put it in the oven. I have a baking stone which gives a resemblance of a wood heated oven.
After a lo-ong time I took it out of the oven and left it to rest until the following day. That would be Thursday. I started this adventure on Sunday evening.
The vote of the jury = me? The heat was too high. It formed a crust too soon and left the centre of the bread a bit underdone. Ovens are different. Flours are different. I need to trust my fingers; this will cut one whole day from the process. The acidity is just right. I’m happy. I feel I have achieved something. My juuri, water, rye and sea salt. Nothing else.
PS The bread's getting tastier by the day.
I'm Piisa and I will be sharing with you my thoughts on this and that, maybe even on whatever.