Sourdough for starters

Once upon a time I was a Night Baker at the McKinley Park Hotel. Though the hours were odd – I sat down for ”dinner” when all the other staff were eating breakfast, I had the hotel kitchen all to myself through the long twilight hours of the Alaska summer nights. My job each evening was to make hundreds of biscuits for visitors catching the early morning bus to view Mt McKinley, and make quite a few tiny bread loaves for dinner guests.

I had been promoted to this position from dish washer when I let it slip that I had made bread in the past…but never on this massive scale. My previous job in the area had been pounding spikes as a gandydancer with an Alaska Railroad extra gang, so I did not mind the change. Less hazardous for sure.

I gave myself the title of Faker Baker since most of the time making bread entailed pulling frozen dough out of the freezer, cutting the tootsie roll like shapes and throwing each tiny loaf in bread pans and then into the sweat box. There they rose and I then baked the morsels for all the tourists in the dining room. Given our remote location, sometimes orders were delayed and I had to make the bread from scratch. I’d toss thirty pounds of flour, some water and a heaps of yeast into an enormous Hobart bowl and watch the massive rising eruption. It was an absolute pleasure to pound that swelling mass before the Hobart arm took over most of the kneading…and the exercise let out all the frustration I was feeling about an unobtainable love interest.

So now years later, the pleasure of bread making has returned as I bake for two. A neighbor donated sourdough starter from the Sea Wolf bakery on Stone Way and I plunged into the process, seeking training from various web sites. After several failures that were exceedingly heavy (not quite hard tack so edible but not pleasurable), my wife Michele took pity on me and ordered a scale, proofing basket and Dutch Oven. I found a web page (Pioneer Woman) with step by step photos that guided me to the successful loaf seen in the photo above.

It took a great deal of willpower to avoid cutting into that loaf before its time. But when it was ready, it was marvelous…with butter and a taste of wine.

Now it is up to me to care for my starter. Am I up for it? We shall see. We know a professional baker who visited the Northwest from Texas to take training near Edson…and it was the first time he had every left his starter. He had finally relented and trusted his wife to keep the culture alive and well. I do not care to be a slave to my starter but since we will probably not be traveling for a while, I can devote some time feeding my culture. Long Live Sourdough!

About Whittoons

Cartoonist, and community organizer who has covered the globe as a doodlebugger, gandydancer, supernumerary steward, Able Bodied Seaman, Wireman, monkey man, Night Baker and dishwasher, Hobo, hitchhiker and husband.
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