I got so many wonderful books for Christmas. The titles, I’ll admit, were no surprise: sometimes it helps to let people know exactly what you want. Other times, it is easier still to order them yourself, wrap them and put them under the tree with a pretty bow and a label for yourself!
Going on this journey with Misty Green Living has really been pushing me to learn: new ideas, new techniques, new skills. Some of these aforementioned new books explore skills I have never considered before: soap-making, making condiments like mustard, rendering lard. They also give useful information on other topics like baking, fermenting, dairy and food preservation. Most of all though, as I pore over their pages, they kick up feelings of excitement, inspiration and creativity.
So yesterday, with books old and new tucked under my arm, I revisited a project that I have tried and failed on a number of times: sourdough.
Growing up, we visited Malta every year in June. My dad was Maltese and his family was there, so we would make an annual journey to spend time with them and enjoy a break from the Irish weather. In fact, I also spent a number of summers there with my aunt and uncle, as was blessed to enjoy full immersion in the Maltese lifestyle. I have so many memories of those wonderful times, and many revolve around food: ice-cream on the beach, trips to the green-grocer’s truck, hearty meals with all the family crammed around a long table. Most of all though, bread.
Earlier trips to Malta were at a time before they joined the European Union so they were not bound by any rules in relation to food. They imported their flour from outside Europe (from Canada if I remember correctly) and it was coarsely ground. This was the key ingredient in the traditional Maltese Loaf, which was a sourdough bread. I can remember the tangy flavour and the wonderful texture of it still, especially the wonderful crust which was often almost blackened by the ovens. Entry into the EU meant that the supplier of the flour is now more local and they bread has changed as a result, but they still primarily use the sourdough technique for that most popular loaf.
When we were plunged into Lockdown 1.0, it seemed that social media and the airwaves were filled with folks making sourdough and of all things, Banana Bread. I bucked the trend, rolled my eyes and headed out into the garden to exhaust myself there instead. I love the idea of making my own sourdough starter. On a number of occasions in the past, I had tried the process but never made that much progress in the matter. I would measure my ingredients, talk to it, poke it and try to coax life into it but ultimately, it would be forgotten about until the funky smell coming from the corner of the kitchen was investigated.
Having consulted my various cook books again, I mixed together some whole-wheat rye flour and regular ol’ plain flour in a jar and added some water. I talked to it and named it, thinking maybe if I developed a bit or a relationship with it, I might care more about it and be less inclined to abandon it to its own devices! I considered name options and after a little think and a cup of tea, came up with ‘Amara’. It was pretty and seemed to fit my new pet. Also, I reasoned, it begins with ‘A’, my next attempt can begin with a ‘B’ and so on.
As I sat down to write this, fingers hovering over the keyboard, I got curious. Does the name have a meaning? I wondered. It turns out it does, and I took that meaning as a good omen: the name ‘Amara’ has Latin origins and means ‘everlasting’. I was certainly not looking for any kind of a relationship that long term, but I can live with it. Especially if we can have a mutually beneficial relationship that gives me a natural leavening agent for countless loaves of bread in the future!