Something’s alive in my refrigerator.
No, I didn’t mean the forgotten leftovers in the back corner. What’s alive and active is my pot of sourdough starter, the fermented flour and water mixture that I’ve kept alive (sometimes only barely) for three decades.
The foamy sourdough that I use for baking loaves, pancakes, and pizza dough was given to me by a friend who got it from her mom in Eastern Washington. That pot of starter likely is now a senior citizen, worthy of qualifying for Medicare.
Not long ago, I learned that I’ve been lax all these years. I’ve thoughtlessly left my sourdough starter nameless. Why would it need a name? Those in the know say that sourdough starter needs a name because it is very much alive and, use it or not, it must be fed regularly to stay vital. Cooking gurus report that many, if not most chefs name their sourdough.
There are schools of thought about what to call a living collection of yeast and lactobacilli. Some bakers are satisfied with names similar to those they call their four-legged pets: Low-key names like Buddy, Daisy, Sarge, Bruno, Champ, Dolly, or maybe even Elvis. However, there’s another perspective that holds that the sourdough pot deserves a unique and even comical name, a pun-lover’s invention. Among those I’ve heard are: Bread Pitt, Clint Yeastwood, Marlon Brandough, Issac Gluten, Carrie Breadshaw, and Sir Rise-a-lot.
Tyson Greer, one of the seven authors of “Writing While Masked,” writes about being given a sourdough starter by a friend. It was a welcome gift when the covid-19 pandemic struck and commercial yeast disappeared from grocers’ shelves. Greer responded by naming her starter “Ovid.” I’ve heard of another pandemic-era baker who christened her starter “QuaranTina.”
Former Seattle Times writer Ron Judd (now editing the new “Cascadia Daily News” in Bellingham) recently wrote on Facebook about a disaster: He’d lost his trusty sourdough starter to neglect. (A reminder: you’ve got to sweeten the pot regularly.) Luckily Judd found an older batch of sourdough in the recesses of his fridge and was able to nourish the oldster back to health. Obviously, the rejuvenated culture deserves a name. My suggestion, which Judd is welcome to take: Lazarus. That’s not far-fetched since another cook I’ve heard about named his sourdough Jesus (meaning “he is risen.”)
For my own sourdough, I considered a slew of names, deciding to pick one to suit the culture’s unique personality. Whenever I check on the starter, it’s foamy and refreshingly tart. Among the names I thought about were: Kneady, Puffy, Sour Pants, Doughbert, Sourfina, and Weirdough. It was almost harder than picking a name for one’s infant, not knowing how he/she would turn out. Finally, however, I gazed into the sourdough pot to see what was hopping and picked the one and only proper name: Bubbles.