It’s been six or seven years since I’ve made sourdough rye. Due to food allergies and a baby being born, bread making went by the way side. We have had healing for the food allergies and the baby is not so baby anymore….so I’m able to add things back into the routine. My son has been begging for this bread for over a year. He remembers it from many years back. I told him I’d try to make it for his birthday which was in January. However, January is the worst time to try to get a wild starter going and I was just still to tired from baby care. So now 9 months later, I’m ready to tackle it and I’ll have more success at this time of the year.
Fall is the best time to begin sourdough making if you want to capture wild yeast for a starter. Wild yeast is naturally in the air, but adding some fruit to your starter mixture helps the yeast process along. Wild plums are my favorite fruit to use for this process, they often have a dusting of white yeast-powder on them -ready made. Grapes would also work well for a yeast booster.
We have plums growing along the back of our property. This year was an especially good year. We are eating them as well as putting them to other good uses like wild starter making.
If you are trying to ID wild plums, the best way is to use your sense of smell in the spring. The white blossoms have a delicious smell. It rivals lilac in my top favorite spring scents. They bloom in early spring with the redbuds and daffodils often near Passover and Easter time.
The leaves are pointed at the tips and sharply toothed. They turn a beautiful red and orange in the fall.
Wild plums have wicked barbs. I sometimes cut a few branches and use them to a represent a crown of thorns for our Good Friday table centerpiece.
The trees themselves only grow 15-20 feet tall. Mine are pretty beat up from the Japanese beetles. Considering what they looked like the past few years from the beetle devastation, I’m thrilled with how these are doing this year.
Wild plums make good jelly. It has a bit of a tartness that is smoothed over by the sweetness of the added sugar. My grandma however didn’t like making wild plum jelly. I imagine the pitting got to her or maybe the straining the juice from the skins. We would watch from across the field every spring as she took the handle of her hoe and struck the bushes to dislodge the blossoms and therefore reduce the fall crop. Yet she had to be secretive about this business. My grandpa being from a Minnesota family of 14 during the depression era always gardened under the guiding principle that anything edible had to be preserved and stored in bulk for the cold, sparse days ahead. Grandmas only hope for eliminating gallons of wild plum jelly making in the fall was to take staff in hand and eliminate the source. Watching her reminded one of what it must have been like to see Moses stretching out his arms over the Red Sea to part it. She would swing in wide sweeps with a staff-hoe in each hand, arms raised, back and forth, back and forth. And so every spring Grandma and Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea.
Back to the bread.
My general recipe comes from Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation. I’ve changed the recipe for our preferences, but mostly because I can never leave a recipe alone. The overall process is the same.
Mix flour and water and stir. This is a great process for two boys. The dumping and vigorous stirring are enthusiastically executed. Then add the plums. Again, a good one for boys although keep an eye or the plopping of the plums turns into throwing and splattering. Vigorously stir again. Keep in a warm place.
I make my starter when there are going to be warm humid September days. My enclosed back porch gets nice and warm and is the perfect place to grow yeast. Keep stirring the mix and after a few days, the mixture is bubbly and ready for bread making.
And yada, yada, yada…. following Sandor’s steps and my recipe …. Wild Sourdough Rye bread.