Sourdough – it’s a journey of constant learning

Sourdough bun recipe

I have a to-do list of promises that is as long as my arm (and the other and both legs) of recipes that I’ve said I’ll write up and share. This promise was made two years ago. It’s weird that it’s two years ago. It also seems that the phrase “two years” is running through so many conversations at the moment.

Two years since we were sort of let out

It dawned on me just yesterday, after the market, that it was this weekend, two years ago, that we resumed the McGregor Market. Restriction levels were 3A. Whatever that means. They seemed to change every week.

McGregor Market on a wintery 4 July 2020: Level 3A lockdown restrictions

I remember for three reasons.

  • It coincided – by a day – with The Husband’s birthday. Which we could not celebrate in any meaningful way.
  • The reunion of market pals was happy – almost like a family reunion. It was tentative, though, because we were all still caught up in the fear of this unknown thing that was the pandemic.
  • I added sourdough buns to my regular market fare, and I’ve been baking 24 of them – sometimes more – every week since. I have a customer who has a standing order for between 6 and 10 a week.


The first thing I learned about making sourdough, was that I had to keep mother alive. I have successfully managed to do that for more than two years. At the market the other day, someone actually asked me how old “the culture” was. There was no response when I said just over two years. I wonder why he asked. I had other customers, so I didn’t enquire.

Natural yeast is good for you

A few years ago – I’m not exactly sure how many – I stopped eating commercial bread. I felt hugely better for it and lost weight. A lot. Since I’ve been making bread with natural yeast (sourdough) – I’ve resumed bread eating – daily. In truth, I’ve eaten more bread in the last two that I ate in the previous two years. I’ve not regained the weight I lost. That tells me something a lot. I have certainly experienced the benefits.

Two years later: a confession

In January, I shared my first bake using sourdough with mother. It wasn’t a bread, and which is why I’m only now claiming chapter two with this post. And I am also going to confess: although I promised this recipe to Katie (my plantbased food fiend friend), especially after I re-created it in a vegan version, I didn’t. I just wasn’t sure that I’d perfected it. Truth be told, I hadn’t. Somehow, each week they were different and I was just not sure what I was doing wrong. Two years, and, I guess, about 104 weeks and more than two thousand rolls later, I feel more confident.

What I’ve learned

Sourdough bun recipe

The rolls are never exactly the same each week and you need to watch every step of the way. It’s trial and error and one has to be open to that. I will admit that just in the last six weeks to two months, something has just clicked and I’m getting them consistently “righter” than before. I am so much happier with them now.

What is it, I hear you asking?

I’m not exactly sure, but I’m leaning towards adjusting some of the quantities and instead of using a liquid measure for mother, I’m now weighing her instead. I am also not allowing myself to be tempted to add more water than the recipe says.

The results: much, much better.

McGregor Market
My sourdough offering at the market every Saturday

If you’d like the recipe for these rather delicious (even if I say so myself) buns, you can download it here. If you do download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?

As that photo confirms, those buns are not the only sourdough bread I’m doing. I’m doing those loaves, too. I’ve been doing them for about nine months. I’m still not getting things right there, so when I’ve learned what I’m doing wrong, I’ll share that recipe too. Oh, and I’ve also made naan breads – that recipe, too, I shall share. Possibly before the loaves because they are super delicious and given that it’s winter, I’m hankering for a good curry and naan.

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post script

If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:

  • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I am adding them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
  • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.

I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised applications.

  • From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click here or on on the image below to sign up.

  • Join Hive using this link and then join us in the Silver Bloggers’ community by clicking on the logo.
Original artwork: @artywink
  • lastly, graphics are created using partly my own photographs and Canva.

Not killing mother

In December 1999, I spent my last Christmas with my father.  Three days earlier, we’d bade my mother a final farewell.  As I’ve probably said before, her death was a shock.  Six weeks prior, she’d had surgery.  By all accounts, it was successful although the procedure meant a protracted stay in hospital.  Cleared of nasties, she was doing well and then suddenly took a turn for the worse.  Back in ICU;  back into theatre, twice; organ failure and dialysis; in and out of a coma.

Skipping the long version

If you aren’t inclined to reading, scroll down to the short version.

Things in common but not friends

Let me be clear.  I loved my mother, but she and I were not friends.  It was, to say the least, an uneasy relationship.  We had little to say to each other and although we would have had things in common, now, I doubt they would have been enough to have transformed our relationship.  Some of my profound enjoyment of traditional crafts – knitting and crochet – I get from her. And cooking.  She was a good cook.  My parents’ dinner parties were legend.  The celebration for my 21st birthday was a garden party which, except for the cake, she catered.

Mum and me at different times in our respective lives.

This collage, is of photos of Mum and I.  At different times in our lives. The first time I came across the one of her in the centre, it was like looking at myself.  I’ve never forgotten that weird feeling.  The bottom right photo is one of me, at about the same age.

Opposites in magnets (and in life), attract, but the like poles repel.  Perhaps that was my mother and I:  too alike. It took fifty-odd years to acknowledge that – even after she had died and I found that photograph.  More than twenty years ago.

No conversation – then

Having little in common, there wasn’t much to talk about. I don’t remember any profound or really adult conversation with her.  Only once, that I can remember, did I ask for advice about cooking.  When I cooked my first Christmas turkey nearly thirty years ago.  Next time I wanted to ask her advice about something – also cooking related – some eight years later, I couldn’t.  Although it made me momentarily sad, it did make me remember her kitchen ritual for the sauce I had wanted to make.  Also for a Christmas meal:  traditional British bread sauce which is traditionally served with roast chicken or turkey.

Not a baker

After she died, my sister wasn’t interested in our mother’s personal recipe book – to which I refer, pretty frequently.  My now famous chicken liver paté, and which I sell at the market is hers, and in that book. She also had two different editions of the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book.  I got one, my sister, the other.  I still use it and it taught me how to make marmalade and it’s my go-to for certain basics.

While my mother was an excellent cook, she always said she couldn’t bake.  One vivid memory of such an effort was a birthday cake.  My sister had commanded pink.  Pink. Very. Pink,  it was.  And hacked sculpted to turn it into a cake shaped cake.  For years and for some reason, I believed that I, too, could not bake.  That I have become a relatively accomplished baker of certain desserts, shortbread, biscuits and now, sourdough bread is, to say the least, ironic.

A selection of baked desserts that I used to serve at our regular Sunday Suppers

The absence of conversation, however has changed.  Over the last year or so, I’ve had more conversations with “mother” than I had with my real Mum in the thirty six years I knew her.

Blame it on Lockdown

Last year (2020 in case you’ve forgotten), and when we were in hard lockdown a chef friend in the village started a Facebook group – what’s for supper? It started, among other things, my now ritual photographing of our supper, stretching the imagination (and the budget) as far as it (would) will go.  The other starter was, literally a starter:  a mother or natural yeast for making bread.

Having been scared of yeast, I resisted baking bread.  Also, it’s not something one can do on impulse.  Until then I had tried baking bread a couple of times and had long wanted to literally do it from scratch.  That included my own “mother”.  With no other distractions, let alone plans, and with encouragement from Pixie who, at that stage, had her own, well established jar of glop, I started my journey.

Uncle Ritchie and Auntie Doris

The first “rule” of making one’s own mother, I’m led to believe, is giving her a name.  Of course, being who I am, I was not going to give her a conventional name.  Not female.  I chose “Uncle Ritchie” because he was the only baker to trade I’ve ever known.  I remember the bakery next door to his and Auntie Doris’s (she of my birthday cake) house. And the big ovens…  Nearly forty years ago, it was demolished to make way for a block of flats (apartments).  I digress.

So, in late March, my sourdough journey began.  I mixed equal parts of flour and water in a jar, religiously closing the top, feeding Uncle Ritchie every day.  On day two, I think, there were a couple of bubbles.  Then, a few days later.  Nothing. Dead.  Like baker Uncle Ritchie has been for the last thirty something years.

I killed suffocated him. I’d closed the lid too tight. He couldn’t breathe.

Rinse and repeat

I don’t do well being challenged thwarted.  I was determined to try again;  if Uncle Ritchie wouldn’t oblige, I was sure Auntie Doris would.  She’d come through for me before.  So again, I mixed equal parts of flour and water in a jar, religiously closing the top – not too tightly, but tightly enough to keep the fruit flies out.  I  fed Auntie Doris every day.  On day two, there were a couple of bubbles.  Then more. But I noticed a layer of water forming at the bottom of the jar. A few days or so later the water had risen to the top.

I had drowned Auntie Doris!

Third time lucky

I was not going to accept defeat.  Not from a fungus.

The universe was sending me a message.  I’d resisted, right from the beginning, the obvious choice – my own mother’s name.  Her given name was Ursula, but she was always known as Ula (pronounced Yoo-la).  “Ursula” has significance for another reason:  it’s the name of a former teacher who became a mentor and good friend.  I tried again.

By the end of April, Ursula was a bubbling jar of glop with a veracious appetite and which needed to be used.

It had taken just over a month, bit with hindsight, seemed longer.  As everything did when we were in that hard lockdown.

The short version

For detailed instructions on making your own natural yeast, download them here.

The first sourdough bake off

Having consulted GoG*, I found that although Ursula was growing out of her jar, I didn’t really have enough for anything worth while, and I found recipes for “discard”. As it’s called, and for when mother grows out of her dress jar.  My first effort was scones (or as my American friends call them, biscuits).  I chose those because I wasn’t confident of my kneading skills and, and, and….

For a patch, I made those quite frequently.  I took a batch along or our first skelm social engagement when lockdown restrictions eased a little.  They were a hit.  The recipe’s here.

If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?


Then I graduated to rolls and bread.

Early efforts at sourdough bread loaves and rolls

I’ll save stories of those journeys (and how they ended up on my market stall) for another episode time.

*Good old Google

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • In search of English writing, research and editing services, look no further:  I will help you with –  emails and reports, academic and white papers, formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
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  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.
  • I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised appplications.  From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin.  If this rocks your socks, click on the image below to sign up –

Image: @traciyork

  • I also share my occasional instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr. On your phone, click the icon below, and give it a go.