Sourdough Hotcakes

   Kathleen's best friend Nancy introduced us to this recipe.  Any time our family gets together with her, she at some point inevitably pulls out her sourdough starter and delcares the next morning to be a big  breakfast with sourdough hotcakes.  And there is nothing like a big family breakfast, with everyone gathered in their pajamas to create warm memories and snug up those ties that bind...

   So when we last got together with Nancy and shared a sourdough hotcake breakfast, she offered a piece of her treasured family heirloom: the sourdough starter.  All sourdough comes from a "starter" which is a small gob of fermenting flour that is perpetually fed and grown, then a small piece set aside for the future while the rest goes into the recipe.  Nancy's family starter carries a proud pedigree, coming from Northern California where San Francisco sourdough is a tradition as old as the gold rush days.  Indeed, Nancy assured us, this sourdough is over 100 years old and descendants of it have been carried to many distant places. Here is the official family story from Nancy:

   My dad was fishing and camping on the Klammath river with his pal John Wheat in 1957 on a break from vet school at UC Davis. John said to my dad, "Hey Douglas, there's something you ought to know about," and proceeded to show my dad how to make sourdough hotcakes. That starter came from Dr. AC Peer's parents who had brought it from South Dakota (okay, not quite the midwest) and at that time it was already 50-60 years old. So actually, now that I looked up the history, not sure where it came from orginally. Over the years, my dad has talked to a lot of people about sourdough, and he's never found a story about an older "line" of starter.

   Place is a big deal when it comes to a sourdough starter.  The fermentation comes from a wild yeast strain, and certain commensal bacteria cultures in the mix.  But over time, a starter will also pick up new wild yeast spores from the air that are indigineous to whatever place it lives.  Which is why those San Francisco bread snobs are probably correct in declaring that you can't get bread quite like theirs anywhere else.  So we were pleased to accept the gift of this small gooey sour smelling hunk of mouldering flour.

   Except that Nancy forgot to give it to us.  Distracted by the grief of our impending departure, she never gave it to us.  Now, those who know Nancy might not be surprised by this.  This is, after all, the woman who showed up at our door for a two week stay having forgotten her wallet.  She has a great tale to tell about the time she crawled under the family mini-van having forgotten to chock the tires first. 

   But to her credit, she did rectify the omission and when my brother Mike arrived on Uliad for his Christmas vacation, he was kind enough to carry a tiny crock of starter in his bag.  It did not travel well and initially showed no reaction when we tried to offer it more food.  We contacted Nancy and explained the situation.  She diagnosed that the starter was not dead, but merely starving.  And, like my son Emmett, a dose of sugar would bring it roaring back to its usual hyperactive self.  The trick worked and we have now started our own family holiday tradition involving a big batch of sourdough hotcakes.  It is only a small piece of rotting dough.  But it is lovingly kept across generations, shared with friends, fed to those we love, and a wonderful gift that perhaps only a food lover can appreciate.

   Any sourdough starter will work.  If you don't have one, you can make your own...you'll find instructions in bread cookbooks or on the internet.  Or perhaps the easiest way is to just make friends with Nancy.  Email me and I'll put you in touch!

Sourdough Hotcakes

To C starter add for every 2 people:  1 C. flour, 1C. milk, 1Tbsp sugar.  Let raise overnight.

Be sure to reserve 1/2 cup for the future before adding:

tsp salt (scant), C. oil, and 1 egg (for every 2 people)

   Mix well then add:

to 1 tsp soda. (for every 2 people)

   Now stir 31 times.  Yes, it HAS to be exactly 31.  No, I don't know why.  Because Nancy says so, that's why.  Now just do it.

Fry on a hot griddle, turning when bubbly.  Serve immediately.