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Bread Kneader: Nourishment From the Lady

By Linda

A couple of years ago I witnessed a woman express irritation at being called a lady. She was reacting to the idea of being considered an aristocrat and elitist connotations she was prescribing to the term. I realized that I don’t find the term offensive and I find language fascinating. I know that in different eras, words have different meanings. I often find language fascinating, so I decided to do some research on the origins of the word. Following my curiosity and a hunch, I was delighted by what I discovered.

What I found is that the word comes from the old English word hlaefdige. The first part of the word which is a derivation of hlaf meaningloaf, bread. The second part is from the root dig=, to knead. So we can say that a lady is she who kneads bread. The connotations at the time delineated the role of the lady to nourish her household.

While it is true that lady became a term for women of nobility, clearly the origins stem from that of a woman who nourishes her family by baking bread. As a woman who devotes her life to nourishing my family and community by baking bread and preparing whole and wild food meals as well as offering a wide spectrum of opportunities to gather and learn, I do not take offense to being addressed as a lady. I have come to embrace the term and smile when I hear it. I smile because I hear a celebration of myself as a bread kneader.

In celebration of all of the current and future bread kneaders, I am delighted to share the following instructions and recipes for baking sourdough bread. I focus on sourdough bread, as I appreciate the fermentation process. This process produces bread that has been leavened for a long period of time and renders it more digestible.

Catching Yeast:

The first step in making sourdough bread it to catch yeast. There are a variety of ways to catch yeast. My preference is to catch yeast from the surface of wild grapes, which grow abundantly around me. I replenish my starter every year, even though it is probably not necessary, but I enjoy the process of catching yeast.

  1. To catch yeast from grapes and other fruit: Place a bunch of grapes or other fruit (I have made a nice starter from blueberries that I purchased from my local food coop) in a bowl. Mix in equal amounts of flour and water. I start with a cup of each, but equal proportions are more important. Mix them together and cover, and place in a location where the temperatures are at least 68 degrees F. Every day for 3-5 days adds equal amounts of flour and water until the mixture is bubbly and has a mild sour smell. Strain the grapes out of the mixture with a strainer, using a spoon to push the mixture through the strainer. You know have a starter that you can use to bake bread. You will need to continue feeding your starter, see below for feeding instructions.
  2. To catch yeast from the environment: Wild yeast lives everywhere. You can capture it from the air and from the flour itself. Simply place equal amounts of flour and water in a bowl. Cover the bowl and leave it in a place where the average temperature is at least 68 degrees F. Add equal amounts of flour and water every day for 3-5 days, until the mixture is bubbly and has a mild sour smell. You know have a starter that you can use to bake bread. You will need to continue feeding your starter, see below for feeding instructions.
  3. To catch yeast from another person: Some people are fortunate enough to have a culture passed on through their family. If you do not have this option, you can find a friend who has a starter that they will share with you, you can purchase starters on the internet and at some natural health food stores. There are many starters and trying different starters can fun. I have had several going at the same time. It is fun to experiment.

Feeding Your Wild Yeast Starter:

Feeding our starter fresh flour on a regular basis provides it with the carbohydrates necessary for it to thrive. The yeast needs sugar and the flour is the source. Feeding the starter weekly is ideal. If you are baking once a week or bi-weekly you can feed it once you remove the amount you need for your recipe. Starters can be stored in the refrigerator between uses. If you bake every 2-3 days you can feed the starter and leave it out of the refrigerator.

To feed your starter, place the starter in a jar or a crock. If you are planning to bake add equal amounts of flour and water (it is ideal to do this by weight, but if you do not have a scale you can use a measuring cup), the starter should be the consistency of a thick soup. Do this for 2-3 days prior to baking bread.

If you are simply feeding it to keep it active, you will want it to be a little thicker, like a thick dough. This can be stored outside of the refrigerator for up to a week. If you are not going to bake with it, place it in the refrigerator after a week.

* Generally, the amount you feed your sourdough starter depends on how much of it you have to start with. I typically double the amount of starter each time I feed it. Keep in mind that if you have more starter than you need you can pass it on or you can feed small amounts of flour and water just to maintain it until you need more. You can also make sourdough crackers, pancakes, or other baked goods.

* To store your starter for long periods of time, you can either dry it (simply smear it on a dehydrator tray and dry on a setting below 100F) or you can place it in a small jar (4 or 8 oz) and freeze it.

Quick Sourdough Bread Recipe

(makes two loaves and makes a light bread, that is agreeable even to those who are not used to whole grain bread)


1-1 1/2 cups of starter

5 cups flour

4 cups of warm water
stir and let sit overnight (or for at least 8 hours)

Always remember this step! In the morning take 1 1/2 cups for your starter.

To the flour mixture:

Add 5-6 more cups of flour

Add 1 TBS salt (to be adjusted to your taste, as you make more bread)

¼ cup of olive oil

Mix and knead for 10-15 minutes

Grease two baking pans (I alternate between loaf and round pans)

Place loaves into the pan and rise for 2-3 hours (the bread should increase in size)

For moist bread place a pan of water in the oven during baking.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes

(this is a basic recipe, you can add a whole array of ingredients to enhance this bread, i.e. sunflower seeds, other grains, berries, fruits, honey, spices, herbs, etc. Be creative!)

Linda Conroy is a bioregional, wise woman herbalist, educator, wildcrafter, permaculturist, and an advocate for women’s health.

She is the proprietress of Moonwise Herbs and the founder of Wild Eats: a movement to encourage people and communities to incorporate whole and wild food into their daily lives. She is passionate about women’s health and has been working with women for over 20 years in a wide variety of settings.

Linda is a student of nonviolent communication and she has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as Law and Social Policy. Linda has been offering hands-on herbal programs and food education classes for well over a decade.

She has completed two herbal apprenticeship programs, one of which was with Susun Weed at the Wise Woman Center and she has a certificate in Permaculture Design.

Linda is a curious woman whose primary teachers are the plants; they never cease to instill a sense of awe and amazement.

Her poetic friend Julene Tripp Weaver, eloquently describes Linda when she writes, “She listens to the bees, takes tips from the moon, and follows her heart.”

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