A mustard-colored crockery bowl sits on the kitchen counter near my wood cook stove. The yeasty smell of sourdough starter floats from the bowl and through my kitchen. Bubbles burst on the surface of the fermenting dough like the mud pots of Yellowstone, and I look forward to that tangy taste when I bite into a hot biscuit.
The scent of sourdough also reminds me of my senior year in college when I flipped sourdough pancakes most Sunday evenings.
The small Michigan institution I attended offered upperclassmen the opportunity to reside in houses that the school purchased and used as cozy dorms. My senior year, I was the resident adviser, or RA, for one of the cottages where a dozen females lived.
As the RA for the dwelling, I soothed roommate squabbles, changed fuses, and occasionally reminded a coed of college rules. I also looked for ways to build a sense of community among the residents.
All of my housemates agreed that the Sunday evening meal offered by the dining hall was dismal, so folks tended to stay in the cottage and snack.
I enjoyed experimenting with new foods, and that year decided to explore the world of sourdough. I learned that once my starter began to bubble, it needed to be used regularly. So one Sunday, I invited everyone to feast on pancakes.
Saturday night, I stirred flour and water into some starter and covered the crockery bowl with a dish towel.
Come Sunday evening, I measured out enough starter for a large batch of pancakes and stored the rest in a small crock. I tossed in more flour, baking soda, and a few eggs and then dropped silver-dollar-size pancakes onto my hot electric frying pan.
Despite our limited kitchen supplies, I wanted this meal to be festive, so I pulled out a box of china I had bought at an estate sale a few summers before. My friend Marcia Ann set the table with plates garlanded with pink roses and with the silverware my grandmother had given me.
While I heaped pancakes onto a platter, other housemates strolled in and offered what they could share: Jars of jam and honey, tins of cookies sent from home, a pitcher of instant juice, and a pot of tea all enhanced the banquet.
We said grace, filled our plates, and chattered away the evening. Everyone helped clean up the kitchen, and all agreed that they wanted to repeat the party next Sunday.
Whenever I smell sourdough working, I hear the babble of college girls and remember those relaxed Sunday evenings.
The starter bubbling away in my kitchen will need to feed only two this morning.
But I stored a cup of it in a crock, waiting for when friends gather at our table once again.
2 cups unbleached or all-purpose flour
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon dry yeast
2 tablespoons honey, maple syrup, or sugar
Combine flour, water, yeast, and sweetener in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap to retain the moisture.
Leave in a warm area (about 80 degrees F.) for four to five days. Try to stir the mixture every day or at least every other day.
Then refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
Gibson Cottage Pancakes
1 cup sourdough starter (see recipe)
1 cup unbleached flour (see note)
1 cup whole wheat flour (see note)
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons honey (or sugar)
Optional add-ins: Blueberries, raisins, or dried fruit such as cranberries. (Sometimes I add nutmeg or coconut.)
The evening before you want to make pancakes, remove 1 cup of the sourdough starter from the refrigerator, place in a mixing bowl, and blend in flour, milk, and salt.
Cover and set this mixture in a warm place overnight. The next morning, remove 1 cup of the mixture and return it to the bowl of starter, to help replenish it.
Then stir in to the pancake batter baking soda, eggs, oil, and honey or sugar. If the batter seems too thick, thin it with more milk. Stir in any optional ingredients and drop by tablespoons onto a hot, lightly greased griddle. Turn when bubbly.
Makes about 30 small pancakes.
Note: You may substitute 2 cups all-purpose flour for the 1 cup unbleached flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour.