Here is my experience collecting a sourdough culture while on a 5 day trip to Alaska. I've been making sourdough on and off for a few years, but after reading about sourdough starters that have lasted generations, I wanted to create one that would weave into my life's story, perhaps even live on after me.
I traveled with my family to Alaska this past week. We flew into Anchorage and drove to Denali park, Fairbanks, Delta Junction, and Kenai.
Alaska and California are somewhat akin, since both are frontier/gold rush states. Fun fact: experienced miners in the Klondike gold rush were called sourdoughs because they'd use often body heat to store their starter in the cold months.
I thought it would be fun to collect a sourdough starter from Alaska and ship it back home, a memorable start to a daily culture. Ed Wood described the Alaskan sourdough starter as being very vigorous, so I figured 4 days should be enough to capture a starter.
Harvesting the Starter##
In Anchorage, we stopped by a Walmart and a local grocery store to pick up some snacks for the road-trip. There I bought some containers (sugar dispensers for $1.47) and a 5lb sack of AP flour. The grocery store was pretty low volume, and I looked for the stalest looking sack of flour to maximize the chance it would have local yeasties growing in it.
Each day at morning and night, I mixed some flour and water into the glass sugar containers (I had 2 just in case one of them shattered) while dumping out half of the existing starter. I kept the starter jars quadruple bagged in the trunk of the rental car while we drove.
When we were at a hotel, I used the hotel hand towels with an elastic tie to cover the top of the jars. I'd place the containers in windowsills or any part of the room that was far enough away from our stuff--I read that we humans have a unique biome of bacteria floating around us, and the point of this adventure was to try and capture Alaskan yeast/bacteria.
On day 3 of the trip, I woke up to see the towels on the containers bulging. It was quite a mess to clean the towels, but alas the starter had risen!!
Making a Loaf in Alaska##
Since this was a day ahead of when we were going to leave, I made a 1:2:3 dough with half of the starter, kneaded it, and put it in a bag in the trunk of our car to rise while we drove. When we got to the last hotel (an airbnb hostel/cabin), I scraped the dough out of the bag, dropped it in a cast iron skillet (provided by the cabin) and cooked the dough on 400'f (). The dough cooked nicely, and on day 4 of the trip we were munching on homemade Alaskan sourdough while driving through the Kenai Fjord.
I've read about how sourdough starters can be such a chore, but even while on a vacation, it was super easy to maintain. Plus, it made driving through the state feel like a modern variation on the old caravans to the west.
Shipping the starter home##
When we got back to Anchorage, I picked up some plastic ziploc bags, and quadruple bagged about 4 ounces of starter in several bags. I went to the local FedEx store, and double bagged the ziploc bags in 2 bubblepac envelopes.
They arrived the day after we got home.
I've read that starters change once you bring them to a different region, but I'm hoping that the Alaskan sourdough culture will interact the local yeasties in a good way. In any instance, I have a culture with a story behind it, and have something tangible from a wonderful vacation that I can interact with everyday.
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