Striking the Mother Loaf: San Francisco Sourdough

Baker, Boudin BakeryFernando Padilla, – Master Baker, Boudin Bakery, San Francisco

I could live quite happily just on fermented stuff: wine, cheese, sauerkraut (but maybe not Eskimo whale flipper), but most of all bread, my favorite being San Francisco sourdough. Fernando Padilla has been Master Baker at San Francisco’s Boudin (pronounced bowdeen) Bakery since 1988. But Boudin goes back to 1846, when Isadore Boudin (French pronunciation), son of a Bordeaux baker, took the miner’s bread he discovered during the California Gold Rush and alchemized it to fermented gold.

The secret is in the starter, a pool of microorganisms consisting of lactobacili and natural yeast living in a blob of wheat reverently called the mother dough. Miners carried Mom close to their hearts, in pouches around their necks and on their belts. The beauty of this concoction, mixed with wheat, water and salt, was that the bread it made didn’t spoil and mold quickly, due to its acidity. Boudin’s perhaps not-so-secret ingredient was honored with scientific name, lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. Padilla says that the DNA of his mother dough probably dates back to Gold Rush times.

Sourdough differs from other breads in that it doesn’t use commercial yeast to speed it along. It takes 72 hours to make a loaf of bread, but the reward is the unique sourness that bubbles up inside.

So how about celebrating the phenomenon of fermentation with a glass of Pinot, a slice a cheese, and while I’m at it, why not tear off a chunk of San Francisco sourdough?

Boudin is considered the oldest still operating business in San Francisco. Its showplace bakery, museum and restaurant is located at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

Caving In To Champagne

Near Epernay – Photo (c)Russell Johnson

The night they invented champagne
It’s plain as it can be
They thought of you and me
The night they invented champagne
They absolutely knew that all we’d want to do
Is fly to the sky on champagne

Lyrics from”Gigi” (1958) (Lyrics : Alan Jay Lerner / Music : Frederick Loewe)

Champagne has always been about celebration, like greeting the new year.

I had always enjoyed it, regarded it as a fizzy beverage, but never appreciated its subtleties. I had a binary rating system : zero to one…maybe a “meh” in between. I was long overdue for an attitude change.

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Kitchen Memories: Antique kitchen gadgets as art (video)

Food writer Kathleen Thompson Hill with antique eggbeaters

My father held me up to the refrigerator and pointed to the letters.

“Fri-gid-aire,” He sounded it out.

“Fwi-gid-aiwre,” I repeated.

It was my first multi-syllable word. My father took guests into the kitchen to demonstrate how highly-advanced I was.

We all have memories of the kitchen. Licking dough off of a spoon. The first time you were allowed to handle a knife.

Food writer Kathleen Thompson Hill has been collecting kitchen gizmos since the 1980s. They range from a 1790s citrus squeezer to a modern green plastic model shaped like a frog. In between is an enormous variety of choppers, squeezers, beaters, grinders, pulverizers, toasters and other devices designed to torture our foods into edible form.

“Kitchen Memories: The Kathleen Thompson Hill Culinary Collection” features a large sampling of her vast collection. I asked Kathleen if she could be considered a hoarder, to which she replied, “Hoarders don’t catalog.”

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Gourmet Magazine’s Private Dining Room

Eat Those Words!

It was a day that marks a life passage in a boy’s adolescence. It was spring and I was helping my father remove storm windows and replace them with screens. Robins mined for worms, Dizzy Dean or some other drawling baseball once-great honked from a radio, power lawnmowers chorused. We stopped and refreshed with a lemonade and he — haltingly — told me: “Son, you are reaching the age when I think it is time that you know some of the facts about being a man.”

I laughed. “Oh, I already know all of that, Dad.”

Are you sure, he replied. “Barbecue is really an art.”

I confess that I have always been more of a food voyeur than a chef, barbecue being the exception. As a child, while other kids stuffed Playboys under their mattress, I pored over Good Housekeeping, leering at juicy cuts of tender meat that looked decidedly different from the gray slabs of roast beef my mother scorched as if she were performing exorcisms.

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