Making sourdough rye

Up here in Michigan there should be some cool weather, cool enough to get some good rye sourdough starter going. But it is supposed to reach 105 F today, so I had to leave my stone-ground rye flour and water in the basement for a couple of days for the native yeasts in the flour to get going. It still smelled sweet, so I’m guessing the culture was not overrun with undesirable bacteria.

What keeps me from being a gourmet cook is my love of peasant food. Well, that, time, and ability. I’d be cooking the pokeweed in the yard if it were spring. I remember the Italian contadina (translates as peasant, but without the pejorative undertone in English) gathering herbs from the ditch outside Florence. I had just seen a viper, a true viper, and told her. She assured me she wasn’t afraid of vipers, and showed me her skirt full of various weeds, some for her, some for her chickens.

I have to confess I’m more scared of my plant ignorance after reading Amy Stewart‘s book, Wicked Plants.  I won’t be cooking anything I’m not completely positive about.  So, right now I’m growing bread. It is a heavy, leaden, 100% rye loaf. I took the frothy starter made in the basement with just rye and water, then added more rye flour, and salt. I shaped it into a disk about an inch thick, and pressed caraway seeds into the top. I know they sometimes knead such loaves, but I didn’t see the point, since there is no gluten to develop.

I’ll let it rise about half a day, then bake it. I hope we can cut through it. I saved a little ball of the dough in the refrigerator for my next start. Maybe I’ll even take it home with me on the airplane.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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