• Alaska sourdough: bread, beards and yeast

      Dowds, Susannah T.; Cole, Terrence; Ehrlander, Mary; Lee, Molly (2017-08)
      Sourdough is a fermented mixture of flour and water used around the world to leaven dough. In this doughy world wide web of sourdough, one thread leads to Alaska and the Yukon Territory. Commonly associated with the gold rush era, sourdough is known both as a pioneer food and as a title for a long-time resident. Less well known is the live culture of microbes, yeasts and bacteria that were responsible for creating the ferment for nutritious bread, pancakes, and biscuits on the trail. Through the lens of sourdough, this study investigates the intersection of microbes and human culture: how microbes contribute taste and texture to baked goods; why sourdough, made from imported ingredients, became a traditional food in the North; and how "Sourdough" grew to signify an experienced northerner. A review of research about sourdough microflora, coupled with excerpts from archival sources, illuminates how human and microbial cultures intertwined to make sourdough an everyday food in isolated communities and mining camps. Mastery of sourdough starter in primitive kitchens with fluctuating temperatures became a mark of accomplishment. Meanwhile, as transient fortune seekers ushered in the gold rush era, experienced Sourdoughs continued to take pride in a common identity based on shared experiences unique to northern living.