Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The thing about sourdough

The thing about sourdough is that it takes a while.

It begins with a "starter", which is basically a concoction of flour, water and natural yeast. It has to be grown, nurtured with twice daily feedings of flour and water, and, as most newbies believe, magic.

Like most newbies, within days of the first stirring, I started asking "how about now?" I was plagued with doubt. Everyone who has baked a successful loaf is an expert and every expert has an opinion.

It took a good two months to get to a healthy starter. But that was a good thing for me. I needed a purpose.

It takes a couple of loaves to get the feel for the dough. Like so many things, until you understand the process, it seems unnecessarily complicated and arbitrary. There are all sorts of new concepts and terms to wrap your head around.

As frustrating as it was, because, you know, I've been baking since I was a little kid and how freaking hard can it be? It was also good for me. I was in a battle for my life last fall. Finding something to learn, to master, to nurture was the perfect way to get out of my head.

Each loaf takes a couple of days to make. The steps really aren't hard at all, and it's not like you're slaving over the dough the entire time. There is work to be done, and then it is time for the dough to rest. Each working of the dough both undoes the previous work, and builds upon it. A more perfect metaphor for my battle with depression I can not find.

I began my sourdough journey last fall when I was coming out of yet another round of major depression and needed a purpose. Feeding "the baby" every day gave me something to be responsible for.

Depression is different for everyone. For me, it is filled with self loathing, failure and unworthiness, anger turned inward, as they say. I've battled it my entire adult life, even as I've entertained thousands of quilters, taught hundreds of classes, written dozens of books, laughed with friends.

I feel that I can share this struggle with you now because I'm no longer active on the quilt teacher circuit. I mean, really, who wants to hire a depressed teacher? At last, I can be completely honest with you, and in doing so, perhaps someone reading this won't feel so terribly alone.

My life is completely deluxe. I am blessed in so many ways. Even knowing that doesn't prevent the monster from haunting me. Depression is a damned liar and a thief of joy. Once more I have wrestled it to the ground. This is more than a loaf of bread to me. It's been part of the pathway home. Be kind. You may never know the desperate private battles being waged.


  1. You'll never know just how much I appreciate you sharing ❤. God bless and keep you 🙏.

  2. It seems to me that working a sour dough for any purpose is a lot like mastering quilting. There are techniques that work, learning those are good, the techniques are mastered over time and in mastering the technique there is, then, freedom to explore with flavor and shape. The learning process is, in and of itself, necessary in both sour dough and quilt making. Over Christmas I had a mystical experience with sweet dough, part of that was giving the dough the time to rise properly. I'm often in a rush when working dough, slowing down made a tremendous difference.
    Personally it's been my dream to have you as a teacher. You have long inspired me with your quilts.