Producing a bread with a sour flavor was long looked upon as a serious fault—a bread fit only for peasants, whose rye bread commonly had a sour taste, not necessarily by choice. While sourdough bread, made from either rye or wheat, is still regarded as a country-style bread, its characteristic flavor is now popular in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. In France, they call their sourdough wheat bread pain de campagne.
First the pioneers and later on, the gold miners of California and the Yukon (whose sharing of sourdough starter was considered the ultimate act of friendship) made sourdough bread popular in the United States. As there was little access to fresh supplies, and certainly not to yeast, they utilized the method of including a piece of leftover dough to start a new fermentation. The leftover starter became known as the mother dough.
Much has been written about the renowned San Francisco sourdough bread; many say it simply cannot be made to taste the same (read as good) anywhere else. Some give the famous San Francisco fog all the credit. The basic explanation is this: Because the yeast present in the starter is dependent on the type or characteristics of the microflora of the area, and as this, of course, is not the same in, for instance, New York as in San Francisco, then even if the starter is transferred to another part of the country, the bread baked with it naturally will not taste the same. This is the reason the bakers in San Francisco get away with saying that their bread cannot be duplicated. I say they also have a few tricks up their sleeve that they are not telling. To be fair, while I haven’t really tried that hard, I must admit I can’t copy that wonderful aroma—and I lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 30 years!
© 1989 All rights reserved. Published by Wiley.