Not a long time ago I baked a sourdough bread, the first time after three years.
The starter is still the same. THE starter, which was brought by a baker from San Fransisco to Barcelona, then taken by another baker in Málaga and finally I got gifted with a jar of it when I said good bye to the bakery and also to my life in Málaga.
In 2015 this starter crossed the whole continent with us to finally land in a small village in northwestern Hungary, where we settled down and found a real home. Since our child was born, this starter was sitting in the fridge, sometimes a little bit abandoned but still regularly fed and loved and cared, waiting for a new chapter to begin.
In the meantime I have baked some yeasted breads though. I was not really enthusiastic about them but they gave me at least a sense of accomplishment. Slowly every bite tasted less and less to me, so I realised it is time to devote a complete day and part of my attention to a bread. Because sourdough bread requires attention and care, exactly like a little child.
The movements are familiar, sometimes not really confident. I look into my notes thousand times, while a reddish blonde haired little head pops up every now and then. While I mix, knead and fold the dough, he appears in the kitchen: sometimes he asks for raisins or dried cherries, sometimes he pulls me into his own fantasy world, where a wooden building block becomes a bell, a crocheted tablecloth will be a screw, a rubber band will be used as a chain and I will play the role of a dog, a cow (yes, you can laugh!) and sometimes the main character from our favourite book, Pettson.
The air of the kitchen will be filled up with the scent of flour and leaven. Memories emerge from the past, from a life that seems to be so far away, as it has never happened to me.
In my mind I can quickly run through Calle Andrés Pérez, the narrow alley between my rented apartment and the bakery where I used to work. I say hello to the shopkeepers along the way, turn right on Calle Carretería, pull up the shutters and immerse myself for the next 8-10 hours in the world of cakes, cookies and breads.
In the next moment I fly over to a next memory: I get lost for a second in the crowd at Place de l’Horloge in Avignon in France, then walk along into the direction of the river Rhône on the Rue Agricol, I pass by my favourite ice cream shop and pastry shop, then turn right on Rue Joseph Vernet to finally go through the almost invisible alley that leads to the restaurant I used to work as an apprentice and where I had the opportunity to learn the life of a real French restaurant.
Another flash. I walk through the streets of New York City, with a too sweet donut and an American coffee in my hands (which I am barely able to drink and eat but are a must when in the city) I enter the entrance door of the French Culinary Institute, head over to the dressing rooms to get on my uniform. I slightly smooth out my white coat with my hands, put on my apron and another new day can begin in the bakery of the institute, where we bake baguettes in the hot ovens, sprinkle rosemary on the top of the focaccia, dropping bagels into boiling hot water and fold the dough many times for the croissant.
I knead all these memories into the sourdough bread, the scent of the distant worlds: sunshine of Málaga, lavender of Provence, the wind that blows from the river Hudson. Then also my desire for freedom and my unquenchable desire for knowledge that made my always restless and forced me to start another journey.
Sourdough bread doesn’t hurry. In the last couple of years I have been learning this too: how to really slow down.
Most of the time I wish I could grab time and stop it completely. Days are passing to quickly, and I let myself drifted by the time, while a tiny little hand slips into my hand and I am so grateful that this little hand still wants to slip in.
We wander through the garden, and drop stones and twigs into the creek. He is running with confident steps toward the end of the garden followed by a dog with flying ears and a tricoloured cat. We are watching the grazing horses on the other side of the creek, listening to the silence or the noise of the tractors. We try to catch imaginary fishes and do our best not to fall into the water.
The sourdough bread can go to the oven after 3 hours resting, it is filling up the air with a sense of home. I go to the pantry room and take the last jar of zakuszka that I made last autumn.
According to Swabian tradition I first draw a cross with the tip of the knife on the bottom of the bread, before take the first slice. Sourdough never disappoints me, it is still the same. As if the last three years haven’t passed, however everything has changed.
Something new has began….