Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #14: RIP Gina, The Unkillable Sourdough Starter

Sourdough recipes haven't been the majority of the things I've written on this cooking blog, but they certainly sometimes seem like it. From the Seared Sourdough Pikelets to the irreplicable Freestyle Bread to the User's Guide to learning how to read recipes, Gina has been a pretty huge part of this. Which is why I'm excited to announce that near the beginning of September, a mere ten months after I received her as a gift, I am free. I found Gina full of literal maggots and decided there was no way to save her. Sorry, BW, and thanks. 

I say free because a lot of my relationship with sourdough, especially since becoming an essential worker again a couple months back, has been pretty ashamed. I never once left Gina in the refrigerator, so when I would accidentally go a week without feeding her it would feel pretty rough. She always bounced back, though, even if I had to take her outside to let some fruit flies free. I would make sure, at that point, to refresh her a few times before making anything for anyone other than myself. And then I would make something for my house or to give to people, and then I would forget for a week, and repeat.

Which, of course, lead to maggots.

For reasons beyond the end of my first sourdough experiment, I haven't spent a lot of time cooking - or even really thinking about food - in September of 2020. I deboned and broiled my first trout recently, have made a handful of the kinds of salads that mean "put mayonnaise and seasonings on meat/pasta," attempted vegan, soy-free milk bread rolls that turned out to be fine if you didn't know what they were supposed to be, and continued to try to develop proper technique (Jacques Pepin-style) for a classic French Omelette.

The truth of Gina is that she has been instrumental in allowing me to develop my baking skills these last nine months. Partially through the aforementioned guilt meaning that I had to do something at least once every few weeks or so; partially through my own stubbornness (that Freestyle Sourdough post linked above, for instance, where I insisted on making a recipe that couldn't be replicated to make it clear that baking isn't as "scientific" as people would have you believe); partially through carrying a consistent, buttery tang through all of my baking that didn't lessen even with neglect, and so allowed me to experiment and still know that the end result was likely to be good.

Among Gina's accomplishments: the Seared Sourdough Pikelets was, I believe, the first recipe I ever developed on my own. She was the source for what was argued to be the best cake a friend ever had; a Sourdough Chocolate cake that I somehow managed to fold together in just such a way as to complement the most chocolate interior with marbled veins of marshmallowy, buttery sourdough. She was transformed into a Friendship starter, briefly, which let me know that Friendship Starters kind of suck. She also was the centerpiece of perhaps my single biggest cooking feat to date, a day where I made three cakes for Family Dinner. I also passed her on to two friends, one of whom baked their first loaf of bread using her (I think that's true?) and became, as far as I know, the first person other than me to test the Seared Sourdough Pikelet recipe. 

So here's one for Gina, who arrived in a busted jar spilled out over a cardboard box, grew into a source of joy and learning, and left in a compost bin feeding the flies. Maybe someday (though likely not soon) I'll try to grow my own from scratch, and maybe after I do that I won't be so cavalier about how easy sourdough baking is.

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