I've always loved good bread, starting from that first homemade loaf of dry-yeast white bread I remember Mom baking when I was five or so. Over the years, I've done some dry-yeast baking and only dabbled in sourdough when it went around as one of those "friendship" games. I wasn't much impressed with those, thinking it was a lot of fuss keeping a stinky jar of whatsit sitting around and then added a bunch of the usual stuff to get...a coffee cake. Whoopie!
One day while sitting with my Mom, now old and infirm, at my sister's house, I caught some Hispanic baker from SoCal on the Food Channel making beautiful breads from his own sourdough starter. I wish I could remember his name because he is a great teacher who really unlocked the whole mystery and preached the gospel of the sourdough. What really caught my imagination was being able to make a beautiful bread without having to purchase yeast; it seemed so self-sufficient and old-world! I also glommed onto his use of cumin in the starter, which seems to keep it sweeter. I hadn't written down his recipe or method, so had to search out a how-to and found a nice straightforward one online by John Ross.
Ever the kitchen braveheart, I of course added the cumin ala the mystery-master. Over the next two weeks I nurtured my starter with great anticipation. Then, joy of joy, it was ready to use! It was an exciting day, with my husband nearly as eager as me to make that first loaf. We proofed, reserved and mixed. We watched a first rising, had a great time with the punchd-down, then watched a second rising. We argued over who would get to form the loaf - me! It's my baby! And we baked...a simple boule which came out crisp on the outside, surprisingly fine and light on the inside. Then, we ate...olive oil, cheese and our bread. That was it. We're hooked. I've only bought one loaf of commercial bread since (it's been about 5 months) and could barely choke it down. I now run two starters to always be prepared to mix up a loaf. We've had some foibles: lead-bread wheat that even with added gluten just didn't attain decent volume; one with too many sunflower seeds that took over the flavor. We've had some beautiful successes: fluffy, crusty quarter-wheat; moist and flavorful rolled rye and sorghum; dinner rolls at Christmas that people now beg for; sesame-seeded semolina. Mmmmmmmm. I'm glad I'm proofing some starter right now...I'm hungry!