A Tale of Two Starters 10

How Draper’s Hunt Family Use their Sourdough Starters

Hollis S. Hunt takes his sourdough pancakes seriously. And it begins with his starter, which is still going strong after 129 years.

In 1970, Hollis lived in Fairbanks, Alaska, and met Grace Abbotts, star pancake maker at his church’s popular sourdough days breakfast. They’d use her sourdough starter to make the pancakes, “making batter by the garbage-can full,” Hollis recalls. Grace had acquired the starter in 1942 from a Klondike gold miner who came to Alaska in 1888 and probably kept the starter wrapped inside his parka to prevent it from freezing.

Hollis fell in love with the pancakes and has been strictly sourdough ever since, faithfully making pancakes weekly. He safely keeps the starter in a plastic container “never metal because the acid reacts with it” he says, and doesn’t wash that container to preserve its integrity.

Hollis cooks his pancakes only on cast iron, which delivers an even heat and a consistent golden brown crust. He eats them piping hot and heats the plates, too.

A few years ago, due to health concerns, he converted the century-old flour-based start to a gluten-free start by feeding it with oat flour and brown rice flour.

“It tastes the same, but the texture is different,” he says.

The secret to a tasty, tangy start is to use it, he says.

“The more you use it, the more vigorous it is.”

If left alone for weeks, it will weaken and die due to the developing alcohol killing the yeast. Before he goes on vacation, he’ll feed it a few tablespoons of sugar to keep it lively.

“It’s not as bad as having a dog or a cat,” he says, “but you still have to care for it.”

Sourdough for health

When Lisa Hunt’s daughter was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, she found her grandmothers’ experiences with sourdough baking to be the best solution.

The mom of five—and Hollis’ daughter-in-law—tried store-bought gluten-free bread, but the expensive, tasteless loaves didn’t impress. A neighbor (the aunt of Melissa Richardson who writes TheBreadGeek.com blog) taught her how to care for a natural yeast sourdough starter and make bread from it, which is often tolerated by those with gluten issues.

“My first batch (of bread) was quite sour,” she says. “It took me about nine months to make a loaf of bread that tasted like awesome white bread.”

Luckily, her bread was kid-approved, as were her sourdough waffles, pancakes and muffins.

Baking with sourdough not only helped the family budget and pleased their palates, but also improved their health. Her daughter ate the bread without complications, and Lisa, who has a biology background, noticed her own painful arthritis symptoms stopped.

Women in her family have been baking with sourdough for generations, and Lisa often consults her grandmothers’ journals for inspiration and to learn how they baked.

“We are connected to our ancestors,” she says.

From her paternal grandmother who grew up in Blanding, she learned how sourdough starters were community builders as people shared them with family and neighbors. Her maternal great-grandmother taught her the economic value of homemade bread, and her daughter (Lisa’s grandma) fed 12 kids by mass baking loaves in pineapple juice cans, which stacked easily in the oven.

Lisa often wonders why her grandmothers’ generation didn’t suffer from the digestive maladies and autoimmune problems that so many people do today.

Much of it, she thinks has to do with how they made homemade breads and the healthy probiotics sourdough offers.

“[Sourdough] is better for your body,” she says. “And your body will perform better, naturally.”