Thursday, January 7, 2016

Finding Wild Yeast

by Angel Jackson

I have recently gotten back into baking bread for my family.  Years ago I made bread all the time but with some health issues of my own causing me to go gluten free 3.5 years ago I gave up bread making and the the bread machine sat in our basement untouched.  A few months ago I remembered that I like making bread whether I eat it or not and I care that my family has good bread so I cleared some space on the counter and brought the old beast up.  Since returning to the kitchen it has refused (out of pure spite from being forced into a dungeon for years) to make a good whole wheat loaf.  Without fail, if I bake a whole wheat loaf in the bread maker it does not rise or wont rise fully, here is today's loaf.

No it's not supposed to be a quick bread!

Fortunately my family is willing to eat dense bread probably since every so often I make it by hand and it rises fine.  I have experimented this year with the 5 minute-no knead bread which has worked beautifully in any combination of white or whole wheat and was a fun new way to make bread, but its not a sandwich loaf. The boys like it most when I forget about the second rise and the dough over-rises all over the counter and drips on the floor.

To try to treat the bread machine as a machine with scientific properties instead of a true beast I started to chip away at the different things that might be going wrong with the loaf.  The boys got involved at this point wanting to know what exactly is yeast and how does it work.  Fortunately YouTube had a nice video for this.  As they watched the video I found the most basic bread recipe I could using boring old white flour and newly purchased yeast from whole foods.  I actually have never purchased yeast there so I thought I would try a new kind.

Now I had changed two factors something I was told never to do in high school science classes but hey new flour and new yeast and ---wait for it, that's right a big puffy all baked in the bread machine white loaf.  Ah well it must have been the yeast.  No, not the yeast, as the loaf you see at the top was the very next loaf.  My 9 year old saw it and said "wait what happened I thought it was the yeast". At which point I decide to abandon all science call the machine a true beast and learn how to make sourdough bread.

Why sourdough, I don't know just something I have always wanted to do and why not at this point.

That is when I come across "wild yeast", this is new to me but as I have now read, and somewhat knew, yeast is everywhere (NOT JUST IN THE GROCERY STORE under the name Fleischmann) and lives on all flour.  This yeast, however, is different than store bought yeast.

Yeast bought in the store will "proof" in a matter of minutes if put in warm water with some sugar. It will stay good in its packets or jars with no attention from us (other than a recommendation to store it in the fridge and don't keep it "too" long).   It doesn't take a lot of work and works well and quick, but you have to go to a store to buy it.

Wild yeast is the opposite.  It's everywhere you don't need to go anywhere to buy it but you do need to find it.  Once you find a place you think will have some you need to spend 5 days feeding it and letting it proof, sometimes this process fails and you need to start again.  Once it has proofed you can then spend a lifetime or many lifetimes caring for it, keeping it alive and vital.  If wild yeast is given the right conditions and time it will come to life and--make sourdough bread:).

I do not come from a family where a live starter was fed and cared for generation after generation and passed down to me.  No, this one I am going to have to start on my own and why not now.

Trying to proof wild yeast (my sourdough starter)

Finding wild yeast is more to me than a bread starter though, as you have probably gathered.  For me, finding wild yeast is the moment with my family where we discover something that has been there all the time, something we did not even know existed but we give it the right time and conditions and we see it come to life.  It is truly my favorite times.  It's the natural places we discover only a few miles from our house that we never knew were there.  It is the mulberry or goldfinch posts I made last year. It is Ian's writing passion. It is my older son's drawing or my younger son's singing.  It is spending enough time together to see things come to life.  It is paying attention to what is actually going on.  I am looking forward to finding wild yeast in 2016!


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