Dances with Sourdough

WWC09SD2.JPGOne of the Hearth Path teachers made sourdough starter with magical intent: created on the full moon, used to bake bread for rituals, and treated as a magical tool by both her and the path students at camp.

Bringing starter home has been like a new baby coming into the house — it has to be kept warm (but not too warm), fed regularly, and kept clean.

I, and the other community members who are tending the starter, are getting used to its quirks, notably a tendency toward dense but flavorful loaves. There’s something reassuring to posting “my first loaf was flat and dense (like a beanie), but remarkably tasty” and reading the same responses from others.

The picture is of my second attempt — still quite dense, but improving — and of the half gallon of starter that’s about to go into three or four loaves for a class this weekend.

So what does this all have to do with “magical” eating? It carries two kinds of symbolism: community magic and a “shaping” magic.

I’m aware, when I work with starter, that it not only acts as a living organism but that the starter is actually a community of many organisms. Finding the right mix of flavor and texture involves a balancing act (or dance) of time, water, and temperature to coax out the right blend of organisms. Unlike my garden, I can’t go in and just pluck out “weeds” from the starter, but have to pay attention to what it is doing and nudge it in the corresponding direction. Magically, I may say “may my community be fed / may my community live in balance” while mixing the starter. More directly, I can nudge and guide and nourish the kinds of interactions I would love to see in the community around me.

“Shaping” magic often comes into play while making loaves — images of family being fed, or those who need holding (as the gluten network holds the loaf together), or those who need to “rise up” from difficult circumstances, or that which needs to be increased. I can work with all those images and the energies they raise while shaping bread, tending it through the proofing process, and into the final baking.

May we all be fed, especially in these difficult times.

– elfin

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6 thoughts on “Dances with Sourdough

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your sour dough experience Elfin. I did feel a little sad when my first loaf came out dense and “turdy”. Still, as you said, the flavor is amazing and I so enjoyed singing chants to Brigid (and the dough) as I worked with the bread – carving runes in its top to charge it with my intention. It is exciting to have this bubbly, magical being sharing my kitchen magic and blessing my home. I am excited to see how she and I change and expand over time.

  2. ooh! i am jealous of such a wonderful community project. we are starting too create recipes (some edible, some not) for our magical workings here at Casa Vesperus.

    tonite for the Dark Moon,we are creating an oat molasses bread that is round and dark. last full moon we made cookies like crescents with honey and pomegranates.

    i also have made ritual bath recipes, and damiana cordial. so much fun! i would love to have company in these endeavors though…

  3. Yum. I wonder whether your sourdough starter is related to the magical sourdough starter my coven brother brought home from Vermont Camp this past fall.

  4. I didn’t get to take the Hearth Path at camp. I am so grateful that you have started this wonderful blog, elfin. I very much appreciate your magical connection to natural yeast, the properties of different flours, and the practice of making those things into bread. Thank you for sharing that wisdom!

  5. I call my sourdough starter a pet for exactly the reasons you mention, and love the idea of making magical loaves 🙂 I often cook with intention but hadn’t specifically thought about bread in this way.

    As a total technical aside, sourdough that’s dense can sometimes use a longer rise to incorporate more air: mine takes 8-12 hours on *each* rise!

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