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Acquired Taste 

Secretly, the idea of baking sourdough started — whatchamacallit? — fermenting in my brain

The first time I tasted sourdough, my review was straightforward. “It’s sour.”

Why would someone want to eat sour bread?

Growing up, I had never heard of sourdough. My mother never made it, none of my siblings ever made it. It was a foreign element, similar, I’d say, to sushi.

Besides, I love my challos. I wouldn’t trade them for anything, definitely not for some sticky, sour thing that, I was told, expects to be treated like a child in your home.

Not me. Not in this lifetime.

I’m not sure when my vehement opposition started waning. Was it when my sister-in-law signed up for this life? When my next sister-in-law followed suit? Or when a third sister-in-law showed off her precious baby?

Sourdough started making an occasional appearance on our Shabbos table. Sometimes it was a gift from one of the sourdough bakers in our family. Sometimes we bought it, because, shockingly, several members of our family discovered a keen liking for the sour stuff.

Those members tried getting me to see the light. Or at least, the crust.

“Fine,” I conceded. “The crust — when it’s hot and truly crusty — is oh-kay.”

The next week. “I like the crust. But why spend three days baking bread if you’re only going to eat the crust?”

Several weeks later. “I really, really like the crust. It’s really good.”

And, eventually. “The inside is okay. I love the crust.”

I’ve always marveled over the pleasures of dry wine and steak. Nobody is born liking these things. You need to develop a taste, and guess what? I’ve been around the grilling block, and I still haven’t developed that taste. Cake and chocolate? No training necessary. Every baby will go for cake and chocolate, without any cajoling. Which proves my point: You don’t have to develop a taste for things that are inherently good.

In my brain, sourdough was classified in the same category as dry wine and steak, and I couldn’t see a reason to waste precious eating time developing that taste. But one Shabbos I (very silently) recognized the undeniable reality: I had developed that taste.

Secretly, the idea of baking sourdough started — whatchamacallit? — fermenting in my brain.

I didn’t tell anyone about this. I just kind of thought it. Then I thought it some more. And at the same time, I thought how ridiculous the whole idea was. I’m forever complaining that I have no time for anything, and by anything I mean the basic running of my house. By the basic running of my house, I mean laundry.

Plus, I’m not a foodie. In fact, I’m an acclaimed not-foodie. It’s a point of pride. And sourdough is an activity exclusive to foodies.

Even if I would — totally theoretically — decide to make sourdough, I had no frame of reference for this creature. Sourdough wasn’t in my blood. My family never veered from (excellent Hungarian) tradition. I had no path of entry into this strangely leavened world.

Until I did. When my own sister — my kin, the one who, like me, faithfully follows our mother’s challah recipe, because no other challah takes to tomato dip the way hers does — set about creating her own starter.

One surreal day, after a neighbor revealed that she, too, bakes sourdough, along with what I was starting to suspect all of Klal Yisrael, and that it’s soooo easy, “It totally doesn’t take over my life, not at all. It becomes part of your Shabbos cooking routine. Listen, I’ll give you some starter and tell you what to do, just try it.” I found myself browsing Amazon and Walmart for Dutch ovens, food scales with tare, banneton baskets (completely unnecessary), and bread lames.

I had all the supplies in my house (and toiveled!) two days later. And my very first sourdough baby on the table that Shabbos.

Everyone on my contact list received a picture of my beauty. My family loyally voted that mine was the Sourdough of all the Sourdoughs in the world. The container of starter leased space in my fridge, and the next Wednesday, I lovingly fed it in timed increments.

Ah, the sweetness.

In addition to the simple, albeit learned, pleasure of this special bread, I suddenly understood the joy and meaning of gifting it to people. So one Motzaei Shabbos, when our family got together for Melaveh Malkah, I warmed one up and took it along.

When my father saw my sourdough bread, he looked at me and asked, “You bake sourdough?”

“I do!” I said, all proud.

He laughed. “Excellent. You’ll be like the story with the goats. You know, the family who lived in a tiny shack and took in cattle to shelter. They had no space to breathe. When the goats finally left their dwelling, they felt like their house was a palatial mansion.” And he finished with his nimshal. “It’s great that you got into sourdough. One day, when you’ll give it up, you’re going to discover how much time you have in your life.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 880)

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