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April 2020, Week 2

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 		 [This is the story behind the breads you might be baking in
lockdown. Grace Z. Li in SF Weekly writes “Baking bread is cheap,
it’s time-consuming, it’s indoors, it’s useful, and it’s as
healthy as its add-ons will be."] [https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 THE WORLD’S OLDEST LEAVENED BREAD IS RISING AGAIN  
[https://portside.org/2020-04-13/worlds-oldest-leavened-bread-rising-again]


 

 Theresa Machemer 
 April 6, 2020
Smithsonian Magazine
[https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/worlds-oldest-leavened-bread-rising-again-180974605/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200406-daily-responsive&spMailingID=42199389&spUserID=MTAwOTE2MDIzNjAyNAS2&spJobID=1740647951&spReportId=MTc0MDY0Nzk1MQS2]


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 _ This is the story behind the breads you might be baking in
lockdown. Grace Z. Li in SF Weekly writes “Baking bread is cheap,
it’s time-consuming, it’s indoors, it’s useful, and it’s as
healthy as its add-ons will be." _ 

 This sourdough starts with dormant yeast spores from Egyptian
artifacts kept at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard’s
Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology., Chris R. Sims via
Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0 

 

With the majority of Americans under some variation of stay-at-home
orders, many are searching for indoor hobbies to fill their time.
Baking, a pastime with a tangible—and tasty—reward, is one such
option. And as evidenced by Google Trends, homemade bread in
particular has experienced a recent surge in popularity.

Most bread recipes require just a few common ingredients, but baking a
toasty loaf from scratch is still a lengthy process. Waiting for yeast
bread dough to rise can take hours of patience; for those craving
tangy sourdough, the process lasts even longer, as aspiring artisans
must grow a starter, or collection of yeast and other microbes living
and fermenting in a solution of flour and water.

“The fermentation that occurs after a few days gives the starter its
sour smell,” explained Sharon Vail for NPR in 2006. “Then it’s
ready to use, for years if treated with respect.”

Sourdough starters have accompanied people on an array of adventures.
According to one legend, reported Kat Eschner for Smithsonian magazine
in 2017, Christopher Columbus brought a starter with him to America
but found the continent lacked the wheat and yeast necessary to
complete the recipe. America’s actual sourdough culture started
later, when miners reached San Francisco during the Gold Rush of the
mid-1800s.

Prospectors brought bread starters on their gold-hunting treks, even
sleeping near the concoctions at night to keep them warm when
temperatures fell. But in the new microbial landscape, the starters
changed, giving the bread more sour, tangy and chewy characteristics.

“Local bakers swore that no one could reproduce it outside a 50-mile
radius of the city,” wrote Patricia Gadsby and Eric Weeks for
Discover magazine in 2003. “When they gave dough to bakeries
elsewhere, it inexplicably lost its ‘sour.’”

Decades ago, researchers identified the microbes that make San
Francisco sourdough special: The yeast is Candida milleri, and the
principal bacterium is Lactobacillus sanfranciscenis.

The loaf’s latest revival also started in California’s Bay Area.
As Zoe Williams reported for the Guardian in 2019, meticulously
supported sourdough starters became a common pastime in Silicon
Valley, and the hobby quickly radiated outward. Further south, in
Pasadena, physicist and Xbox inventor Seamus Blackley has been
reviving some of humanity’s earliest sourdoughs.

Last April, Blackley baked loaves with strains of yeast he reported
were more than 5,000 years old. After facing criticism over the
yeast’s “questionable provenance,” in the words of Atlas
Obscura’s Luke Fater, the inventor teamed up with University of Iowa
biologist Richard Bowman and University of Queensland Egyptologist and
archaeologist Serena Love to more accurately recreate ancient Egyptian
sourdough. (Blackley has continued baking bread amid the COVID-19
pandemic, most recently following a recipe that came, in part, from
hieroglyphs.)

To aid Blackley’s quest for ancient sourdough, Love developed
non-invasive techniques that she used to extract dormant yeast spores
from Egyptian artifacts kept at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and
Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Blackley and
Bowman grew the yeast in a starter supported by Emmer flour, a dense
variety Egyptians likely used in the Old Kingdom, after modern
nutrients kept killing yeast samples.

Blackley then fermented the yeast at 94 degrees Fahrenheit—“the
average daytime temperature around the Nile, and it makes bangin’
bread,” he tells Atlas Obscura—and baked more than 70 practice
loaves before moving on to traditional baking methods that Love
deduced through archaeological research. He baked the final loaf in a
cone-shaped clay bedja pot buried in a hole and surrounded by embers.

The timing of homemade bread’s social media-fueled resurgence is
perhaps a touch ironic. Passover, the Jewish festival held to
commemorate the Israelites’ emancipation from slavery in ancient
Egypt, is set to begin this Wednesday. During the eight-day holiday,
Jews are barred from eating leavened bread; instead, many will dine on
unleavened matzo bread.

Those not celebrating Passover—or hoping to bake exclusively with
ancient spores—have plenty of options for getting started with
sourdough. Freely available guides for sourdough starters begin with a
mix of equal parts water and flour. Set out in a warm place, the
solution will catch wild yeast that floats in the air. With a few days
of care, the starter is ready for use.

“It’s not surprising that people are turning toward baking bread
as a release,” writes Grace Z. Li for SF Weekly. “Baking bread is
cheap, it’s time-consuming, it’s indoors, it’s useful, and
it’s as healthy as its add-ons will be. It even feels like an absurd
luxury. Baking bread—especially on a weekday—requires time and
energy, and it engenders an idyllic and reassuring feeling of domestic
control.”

Unlike Blackley, Li opted to bake banana bread, another recipe rooted
in American history, though much younger than sourdough. Banana bread
first emerged in the 1930s, after baking soda and powder became mass
produced and the Great Depression pushed people to make use of
everything, including overripe bananas. The sweet treat is now one of
the most sought-after recipes on King Arthur Flour’s website—and
its surge in popularity has actually outpaced sourdough’s in recent
weeks.

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