As the sourdough starter in my kitchen approaches its first birthday, my discard game is getting a little stronger. I'm a member of the brand new, unofficial pandemic bread-bakers club, and during these 12 months, the yeast in question has experienced a few fits and starts—with one major scare in the early fall when I feared I had killed it for good. It remains, nonetheless, alive and happy.
These seem like adjectives we would all do well to embrace.
So, when the story about the 65-year-old "monster" sourdough starter hit my social media again recently, it felt like a good time for a recap.
Those who keep sourdough alive for long periods of time each have their own secrets, but regular "feedings" of water and flour are the key. Each time this occurs, some of the old sourdough must be set aside to keep the ⅓ proportions correct. And what to do with this substance is an art all to itself. I feed mine once a week and let it rise for an hour or so before I return it to the fridge. Before I bake, I let it warm to room temperature, feed it and let it double.
It's a good thing that this year I also embarked on reading Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning Western novel, replete with Texas Rangers, cattle drives, love stories and (let it not go without saying) ugly depictions of Native people. Those who know the book (or who caught the late-eighties TV miniseries) know it's centered around two old cowpokes who have been friends forever and whose distinct skills drive the narrative.
Augustus McCrae's include making biscuits. He kept a sourdough starter going for 10 years in his "dough pot," before his partner Woodrow Call decided to move the outfit north. McMurtry sprinkles repeated reference to the biscuits—and their absence—within the course of the 1,000-page paperback, as if the dough itself is a character.
This inspired a spate of biscuit making the likes of which my kitchen had heretofore never seen. I'll admit, I never even attempted to make homemade biscuits before now (something about a man in my family history who threw a hard one through a screen door and lives in infamy), but I even went down the internet rabbit hole and learned there's a restaurant in the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards called Lonesome Dove Bistro, helmed by chef Tim Love. There's nary a biscuit to be found on the menu, however—Tim's place features rabbit-rattlesnake sausage and other cattle-drive inspired dishes alongside fine dining fare. I'm betting Love's cookbook does not contemplate Gus' biscuits either, though I could not find a copy of it locally and am now awaiting an inter-library loan.
This got me thinking about Rick's Cafe: Bringing the Film Legend to Life in Casablanca, which includes recipes to recreate what Humphrey Bogart and cohorts ate and drank in the 1942 movie. In 2004, author Kathy Kriger opened a restaurant in Morocco to serve the food, and the book chronicles its story in a way that's part memoir, part cookbook. Think Champagne cocktails and lamb tagine with a side of an expat navigating bureaucracy and pitfalls.
Apparently no one has done this for Lonesome Dove's coveted breakfasts, the fried grasshoppers with which Po Campos surprises the entire Hat Creek outfit, or his plover egg pie, for example. Or, at least if they have, the internet didn't help me get connected.
So, after some adventure, I've altered this recipe for high altitude and for our two-person household. Come summer, my plan is try it on a camping trip with a dutch oven over the coals.
- Start with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and a pinch of flour.
- Mix a half cup each of cold butter and flour using a fork.
- When the substance is uniform and crumbly, work in a half cup of sourdough starter.
- Press dough on parchment paper into a half-inch-thick slab. Use a jar to cut out discs.
- Piece together the scraps and make one more.
- Yields five or six depending on the size.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven on a clean piece of parchment over a cookie sheet for 16 minutes or until the tops are golden. Check the undersides and don’t let them burn.
Please do yourself a favor and serve them hot and slathered with apricot jam from last summer's South Capital crop.