I spent last week visiting family in Alaska, where the temperature is still subzero but it’s so beautiful you almost don’t mind, except for the constant concern about losing toes. We started in Anchorage, took the train to Fairbanks, and were treated to spectacular aurora borealis, caribou stew, and fresh-baked Alaska sourdough bread.
In Alaska, a “sourdough” is an old-timer — named for the miners and homesteaders who carried their sourdough starter under their clothes, where the warmth of their bodies would keep it alive through the long, cold winters.
Red has only lived in Alaska through three winters, and has some years to go before he can claim the appellation. His sourdough, on the other hand, is as local as they come: the starter was colonized by ambient flora in his Fairbanks kitchen last summer. The local yeasts and lactobacilli — responsible for sourdough’s characteristic tang — keep each other’s populations in balance, and the low pH keeps undesirables from spoiling the dough.
The starter needs to be fed fresh flour and water every three days or so. Since it doubles with each feeding, the only way to keep up with the volume is to do a lot of baking. Also a lot of eating of delicious, hot-out-of-the-oven bread. This was just fine with us.