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I Used to Be a Sourdough Starter
Come in, darling; come in! Yoo hoo – over here, behind the orange juice with the suspicious smell. (Sorry, doll, just tellin’ the facts.)
Welcome to the back of the fridge, or as I like to call it, our own private Paree. (I find that Mr. Moldy Gruyere over there really sets the mood.) So, what’s your story, eh? Don’t tell me: Leftovers from last week, not quite good anymore, but not so bad they’re ready to throw you out?
Yessirree Bob, I’ve seen them all come and go back here, from spaghetti sauce you could put in a petri dish to avocados dry as jerky. They’ll chew you up in this business, that’s for sure. And if they don’t do that, they leave you back here to rot. Believe it or not, I used to be front-of-the-fridge material. Don’t give me that look, you old three-year-old sauerkraut, it’s true! Maybe you’ve even heard of me – the name’s Sourdough Starter.
It was way back in April 2020. Once the nudniks got tired of diddling themselves in quarantine, there was only one thing to do: bake. The only problem was all those Johnny-Come-Earlies who’d seen which way the wind was blowin’ and bought up all the yeast. That’s where I came in.
Sure, I had played bit parts in paltry little loaves from time to time, but all of a sudden this ball of cultured dough was thrust into the spotlight, and I don’t just mean getting mixed into a pizza for a bit of tang on Italian night. “Sour” was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and once those recipes started hitting the web, you better believe every Sally from San Fran to Saskatoon couldn’t get enough of it. Little ol’ me was getting mixed into waffles, cinnamon buns, even muffins, if you can believe it. I was the biggest thing since sliced bread – honey, I was sliced bread!
It was a magical time. After years of being stuck on the baking nerd circuit, being overshadowed by quickbreads and cakes, watching amateurs who couldn’t even produce their own yeast eclipse me, I was on the rise. Listicles! How-tos! The cover of the New York Flippin’ Times! (OK sure, Sunday Styles, but a feature’s a feature, kid.)
Of course, I knew it wouldn’t last, couldn’t last, but that doesn’t mean I was prepared for the cruel meat pulverizer of fate to fall squarely on my tender, squishy body. Sure as Sunday, they turned against me. My old fermented friends, waiting in the wings, saw their chance and pounced. The headlines came, each as piercing as a paring knife: “Your Next Kitchen Project: Homemade Kimchi” (!); “Kombucha Is Our New Quarantine Obsession” (!!); “Now’s the Time to Brew Your Own Beer” (!!!). How quickly they forgot the art, nay, masterpieces that I made possible: crusty miches, Danish Ryes, country loaves with a crumb so soft you could feed it to a baby. And now here I was, thrown out like yesteryear’s cronut.
So here I sit, my poor little microbes wriggling around without a purpose or a prayer, waiting for the inevitable day the boys upstairs forget to feed me (my usual nosh, flour and water) and I mold over like that chicken piccata there. (Sorry, chicky, it’s time to admit you’ve expired.)
Anyway, don’t pity this smelly old lump too much. I suppose we all wind up in the same place in the end: that big ol’ rotting compost heap in the sky. I’ll try not to gum up the disposal for ya too much on my way out.
Have you read Sam Lipsyte’s “The Ask”? Because it’s one of the funniest books ever written!