One Sunday morning, in an upmarket bakery packed to the hilt with women clutching yoga mats and men proudly carrying papoose-swaddled babies, I glanced around in search of a fresh loaf to serve for lunch. I saw the myriad of shapes, sizes, colours and textures of the loaves on display, and then noticed something. All but one, a seeded rye, were variations on the dreaded sourdough. When it was my turn to be served, I asked ‘Is there anything in the shop except for damned sourdough?’ Judging by the disgusted looks that came my way, I might as well have been asking whether anyone fancied kicking a few homeless people for a laugh.
Eating in a renowned Tuscan restaurant, I was appalled to be served sourdough alongside a bowl of olive oil for dipping. That’s like serving a chapati with rillettes. The monstrosity of sourdough cuts your mouth to ribbons with its razor-sharp crust and has been enjoying world domination since we all became home bakers in lockdown.
If you want to know more about the origins of this San-Franciscan import, you could always visit the Sourdough Museum in Belgium (I kid you not) where you will discover that the Egyptians were likely the first to discover fermentation.
I first heard of sourdough when reading the 2000 classic Kitchen Confidential by the late Anthony Bourdain:
The kitchen phone rang, followed by a beep, the little green light indicating that the hostess at the front desk had a call for me…
‘Call for the chef,’ she said. ‘Line two.’
‘Feed the bitch!’ said the voice on the phone. ‘Feed the bitch or she’ll die!’
The caller is an assistant chef too hungover to come to work at the restaurant.