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Creative Loafing

By Stett Holbrook

LAST MONTH, I wrote a column in which I offered two lucky readers a jar of my sourdough bread starter if they'd tell me how they were coping with our sputtering economy. They also had to promise to give some starter away if they won.

Starter, in case you don't know, is a slurry of flour and water that has been colonized by wild yeast. It's the foundation for a good loaf of sourdough bread and something you can't buy. You have to make it. Or have someone give you some. Starter can live for decades, and as it ages it produces loaves with more pronounced, complex flavor and tang. My starter, which was given to me by a reader in San Jose, is about 14 years old. I've taken to making bread as a way to save money, but mainly because it tastes better than the store-bought stuff and it's fun to make.

Anyway, three readers from Santa Cruz wrote in and won the starter. Yes, I said two would win, but I'm a softie and gave the starter to all three. Here are some excerpts from what they said about how they're dealing with these lean times:

Lily said:

"If I've given up anything in the face of our current economic situation it would have to be dinner parties, which is unfortunate. I love having my friends over and cooking for them. It does get expensive, though, especially since I tend to go over the top for my guests. Also, being a twentysomething, my friends don't often return the favor. I don't know if it's because of my age or that my generation hasn't learned how, but not many people seem to have dinner parties anymore. It's something my parents often did while I was growing up. They continue to have dinner parties to this day. I hope that as my friends get older and live in houses instead of apartments, they do the same.  A dinner party is so much more intimate than eating at a restaurant.  

"So, that's my story. If possible I would love some sourdough starter for my kitchen. I would not only be sure to pass it on, but would also make bread for my friends and co-workers to enjoy."

Crystal thought she was too late to win the starter. but wrote in anyway and even offered a bribe: worm poop. Sold!

"I have a worm bin that is full of rich, fertile worm droppings and worms that happily multiply if they are kept in a dark place and fed fruit and veggie scraps. I have been looking for sourdough starter for a while now, and would happily trade a pound of worms or a few pounds of worm castings for your starter.

"Worms are just one of the ways my husband and I have always been frugal. We're very fortunate people; both scientists who have not lost our jobs. We cook most food from scratch and we buy in bulk (yay Costco!). I make my own granola, yogurt, pizza and protein 'cookies' for my husband that reduce the number of expensive protein bars he buys. I recently made my own wedding cake because I didn't see the point of paying several hundred dollars for one. We grow veggies in the backyard with our worm fertilizer. The major way in which the recession has hit us is to make us extremely thankful for what we have, for the teachings of our frugal families, and that we are not in the situation of millions of unfortunate people."

 And finally, here's this from Daren:

"I would love to try working with one of those sourdough starters.  I am an amateur cook who has been using the bread machine amid the economic crisis and haven't had the best results. 

"Some things that I have been doing are making and bottling my own beer for consumption and gifts, making my own granola, and growing as much as I can in my small plot of apartment yard."

That gives me a warm, happy feeling. Just like a loaf of homemade bread from the oven. Enjoy your starter, folks. May it live long and produce many loaves of bread.

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