Suzanne’s Blog: Local Sourdough Starter

The dough rising on a batch of 100%-local sourdough bread. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

My three kids have been desperately missing bagels.   And toast.

You might recall that last winter, in anticipation of this, I experimented with sourdough rye and barley bread  – with mixed results.

Our first three months of eating local were entirely grain free.  Then, against many odds, a successful crop of wheat and rye was harvested just as winter started to blanket Dawson with snow.  Shortly thereafter I found a way to grind the grains and the miracle of flour re-entered our diet.

I have no yeast.  But sourdough starter has been around the Dawson area for over one hundred years – introduced during the Klondike Gold Rush.  In fact, there are Yukoners who continue to feed sourdough starter from the Gold Rush days.  With regular feeding, you can keep it indefinitely. Therefore, I decided to classify it as a ‘local’ ingredient.

But I wondered – could you actually make a sourdough starter from scratch, from 100% local Dawson fare?  Bev Gray’s “The Boreal Herbal” held a clue – juniper berries.  I thought I would give it a try.

I started with 1 tbsp of flour from wheat grown at Kokopellie Farm, added to that 1 tbsp of Klondike River water and about 5 dried juniper berries that I had picked in the Fall.  I mixed them all in a small clear glass – so that I could easily see any remote chance of bubbling– a successful sign of fermentation.  I covered the glass loosely and let it sit in a warm place.  I wasn’t very optimistic.  When I checked on it later I was rather shocked to see those wonderful bubbles appearing within the mixture!  Now sourdough starter truly is a local ingredient!

I continued to feed the starter for a few days until it seemed quite active and then proceeded to make a loaf of sourdough bread.  For my first attempt, I decided to be decadent and use only freshly ground wheat flour – no rye.  And it worked!  Beginner’s luck perhaps, as it was the best batch I have made to date.  Subsequent batches have varied between bricks requiring chainsaws to slice them and slightly more palatable varieties.

> View the recipe for sourdough starter

Bread dough is like a living organism and sourdough bread even more so.  Every time I make it, it comes out differently.  It has become a luxury (depending if it is a good batch or a brick batch), not a staple.  But great to know that, even starting the sourdough starter from scratch – a 100 % local Dawson bread is possible!

> See the recipe for Yukon Sourdough Bread

A finished loaf of sourdough bread made with completely-local ingredients. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Suzanne’s Blog: Flour Power and the Ol’ Grind

Gerard and Tess grinding fl;our by hand. Photo by Miche Genest.

Despite a very cold November, with several weeks of -35° to -40°C, it looks like it is going to be a long freeze-up for the Yukon River again this year. I am lucky enough to have 25 kg. of wheat grains and 25 kg. of rye grains that were secured from Otto at Kokopellie Farm just before the ferry was pulled.   But Otto’s wonderful grinder is on the other side of the Yukon River.  So, for now, I am left to my own devices.

I tried to grind the grain with a combination of blender and flour sifter.  It took many, many passes.  It was possible to eke out a small amount of flour, but certainly not very efficient.

Although Dawson is small (about 1,500 people), it is the kind of community where you can put out a request for an obscure item, such as flour grinder, on the local Crier Buyer Facebook page and expect to get a response.

I was not disappointed.

Within a day, I was very grateful to receive a call from Louise Piché.  She had a hand crank flour grinder, not yet tried, that she had picked up somewhere or other and I was welcome to borrow it.   A flour grinder is a wonderful thing!   A couple of passes through the grinder along with a bit of an upper body workout and voilà – flour! Flour!!  Flour means the possibility of bread and baking!

We have flour!

Subsequently, I received another call – this time from Becky Sadlier who has an electric flour mill that we could borrow.  However Becky lives on the other side of the Klondike River, now filled with slush.  But Yukoners are never too daunted by the weather.  Loren Sadlier was making one last canoe trip across the Klondike, through the slush, and the grinder could go with him.  I had thought the hand grinder was a gift from the heavens.  The electric grinder was able to make an even finer flour!

There are still a few obstacles to overcome, such as the lack of yeast, baking soda, baking powder and crystalized sugar.  But where there is a will, there is a way. Let the baking experiments begin!  (And let me remember my lesson in grain moderation! )

Miche Genest sent me this wonderful breakfast option, Breakfast Caflouti, which only requires ½ cup of flour and no leavening agent.  It was a tremendous hit in our family – and a very welcome change from our usual fried eggs and mashed potato cakes.

A close look at the hand flour grinder and its handiwork. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.