I’m still not quite sure what I did wrong, but I killed the mother.
One minute she was happy and bubbly in her little glass jar, and just a few hours later she was dead, smelling a bit like alcohol. A layer of brownish, oozy liquid lay atop her lifeless form.
I’m speaking, of course, of a sour dough bread starter someone gave me.
Freelance writer Kate Mace brought a bit of her years-old “mother” to me so I could “feed” her, let her grow and eventually use some of the batter to bake a loaf of sour dough bread. The rest of the batter becomes another starter to be fed, divided and baked.
Kate had written about a number of bread bakers in Sun City, some of whom had taken up the hobby as a result of being homebound during the COVID-19 pandemic. I had written about my husband’s new interest in baking bread during the same time, so she knew of my intrigue.
I have a history with bread starters – as recently as a couple of months ago when another friend gave me a different kind of yeasty goodness to feed.
That one was Amish Friendship Bread, and it came to me in a gallon-size plastic zipper bag. The instructions were crazy, written out for each of the next 10 days. Feed it, squish it, let it sit, etc. That starter soon grew and had to be divided into four bags! I was to bake one and give three of them away.
Immediately, I knew why Janice had given me a bag. She had used up all her other friends with previous batches and none of them wanted to be saddled with babysitting this bag of glop for the next 10 days! Oh no!
But I was naive and eager and I said “yes.”
I thought it would be fun. I could remember baking Friendship Bread with my mom back in the 1970s. Apparently, this starter thing has been around for more than 50 years. Day-old bread ain’t got nothin’ on this baby!
Mom was always doing nice things for other people, and she most liked to feed them. Somebody got sick, she baked a casserole. Somebody had a baby, she whipped up a gelatin mold. Somebody died, she cooked a whole meal. In the ’70s, every meal had to have bread, so she began giving starters to every member of the church.
I managed to bake one loaf of the recent Amish bread and give one of the starter bags away. The remainder went bad and I couldn’t revive it. That was the end of that, I thought.
So, a few weeks ago, when Kate offered me a bit of her starter, I was excited again. This mother has a history, she tells me!
Her two pages of tips and instructions included the fact that the starter began in Ann Arbor, Mich., a number of years ago, and “now has a home all over the US, and in fact, elsewhere in the world.”
This mother gets around!
But it didn’t get too far in my house. I was a neglectful caregiver. I totally missed the part in the directions about storing the starter in the fridge after feeding it and letting it rise.
So right there on the dining room table, she died. I tried to revive her with a little snack of equal parts flour and water, and rushed her into the fridge when I realized my mistake, but it was too late.
Kate was understanding and willing to share again, so as I’m writing this on a Friday, I am awaiting her arrival with another mother. I promise this time I will be more attentive, I will feed and nurture her properly, and maybe – just maybe – I’ll have another bit of mother that I can share, now and for years to come.
Who wants one?