My new best coffee! I get up at 6 AM to get ready to open the office at 7. It takes me a while to wake up. I brought a bag of instant powdered coconut milk for creamer. Mixed with honey in pressed coffee the flavors astound me! This one cup coffee press it’s great for a single mug.
Checking out gate keys to visitors was easy and I’m surprised most of them want to chat a while instead of rushing to their hunt. It’s a pleasant way to start the morning. I nearly filled the wood bin and then made pumpkin soup for lunch, stirring in coconut powder instead of canned coconut milk. Scrumptious with a mug of mushroom coffee! My husband rolled in with a friend and our 2 German Shepherds. The dogs stay in the van at the ranch so they can’t harass the resident wild turkeys. I made a pot of espresso flavored with coconut milk and coconut sugar and we sat on the porch in the sun watching wild turkeys in the yard.
I took a map and keys to 3 gates, locked the house (office inside) and we went off in search of the roads. We entered Lake Road access gate and found this small ancient dog house nearby. Our dogs are too large to get in. There is a loading chute and corral at the entrance. We encountered a stream crossing right away (no bridge) and looking at the road ahead decided it truly was best for an ATV, not our big wide Chevy Express. Let’s hit the highway for the next access gate.
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It was hard to find the Woodhead gate right across from the Woodhead campground. Duh! But the gate is behind a pond and no signs point to it. This road, too is not suitable for a van for very many miles. At least it’s not a steep drop off like Lake Road. Eventually we would have come to a peak and pine forest but I had to open the office at 4 so we turned around. I notice my office hours are the same time as the best light for photos, sunrise and sunset. I’ll be back in my 4X4 truck some other time to capture betters photos.
Brownlee Dam, the first of 3 dams on the Snake River in Hells Canyon, is just out of view to the right of the reservoir. For this photo I turned around and now we’re looking down hill. I’m in Idaho. The land across the river is Oregon.
See the road on the Oregon side, pretty high above the water? It’s not Lake Road but just like it. NOT taking the van on it! Looks like fun for a mountain bike. Yikes. When I was a child, not even in school yet, my family would take Grandpa’s Jeep on roads like that pulling a silver camper. What a hoot! Mom was wrong. Dad didn’t kill us all.
We’re pretty high above the canyon but still can’t get cell phone service here. I thought the Carpathian Mountains were steep when I visited Transylvania but I’m not sure they are steeper than these. Back just in time to open the office, goodbye to my guests, and I swapped keys for hunters who are staying the week in Hells Canyon, took some phone reservations, and checked in returned keys. I gave one chukar hunter a tour of the bear trails around the house and under the wild orchard and black walnut trees. So much scat! I don’t find any fresh walnuts on the ground. Do you suppose bears or turkeys eat them? They’re a hard nut to crack. Um . . . not for a bear. He stayed and we chatted a while about wild plums and elderberries and recipes for foraged harvests while we watched the turkeys eating grass seeds and apples. They fly up and knock the fruit to the ground and then fight over it.
I closed the office at 5 and boiled brown farm eggs for dinner from the little Alpine store in Indian Valley. That place deserves it’s own blog post, it’s so eclectic. The sun disappears behind the mountain early so I brought in another load of firewood and put the wheel barrow back in the garage next to the tractors all the while gathering leaves with interesting shapes for water color painting tomorrow. That sound? Turkeys began flying up from the creek to roost in trees above it. I wondered if it was too dark to get photos but digital cameras are amazing at letting in light at twilight. Oh, the sound of these huge wings fluttering! It’s the sort of ruckus that stirs my imagination to write horror stories and paint scenes inspired by great beasts perching above me in the night. That was last night’s entertainment. Look what I can do when there is no distracting TV noise, none here.
A photo of my focaccia bread on my FaceBook page got many “likes” and several requests for the starter and recipe. So I made starters from mine and promptly gave them away. Here’s the way to make your starter from scratch, care for it, and then make whole wheat sourdough bread that almost never fails me. Yes, I fail sometimes. Only the gods are perfect. My dad taught me to fail, to admit I fail, and to learn from the failure so I don’t repeat the same mistake. Some fails take a few repeats to really get it right.
To start with, you need a sourdough starter. I’ll give you my grandpa’s recipe passed down from his youth in about 1912 as the summer cook in our family’s sheep grazing camps in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains. As a young man in 1927 he rescued the diamond drill bit for his mining company by mixing up a tacky dough and sticking it to the end of the drill, then lowering it down the shaft. The drill bit stuck to the dough and was easily pulled up. The mining operation was only briefly down that day. Here’s the story about the mine.
This is how Grandpa taught me to make a new starter. <!–more–> Boil a potato (we live in Idaho, right?) and save 1 cup of the boiling water. Eat the potato. Cool the water to room temperature. In a glass jar stir 1 cup flour with the 1 cup potato water. Cover it with a loosely woven towel to keep dust out but let microscopic yeast in. Leave it on the counter several days. It will ferment, get a lovely sourdough aroma and it may develop a grayish liquid hooch floating on top. Stir the hooch back in or poor it off, no matter. Here is a delightful version of the story.
The potato water has natural sugar and starch in it. Yeast lives in air, just about everywhere on Earth. It is a living organism that feeds on the protein in flour and multiplies. That’s how it expands or rises. It’s a process of fermentation. Yeast will find its food in the jar and dive in. After you’ve trapped the yeast all you have to do is keep it alive and you’ll be able to make bread that rises, no need to purchase dry or cake yeast. In 3-4 days up to a week, you’ll need to add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water to offer more food, stir it in, put a lid on the jar and store it in the refrigerator until you want to use it.
Another way to make your starter is to get some from a friend or buy a mix from a store. You can even put a cup of flour and a cup of water in a jar, cover it with a light cloth and leave it on the counter several days until it ferments. I did that in my classroom whenever we read a Jack Londong story.
Keep the starter thriving: You have to occasionally feed the starter to keep the yeast alive and active. For making bread and buscuits I use a much thicker starter. It rounds up on a table spoon. The theory and practice is that you start your sponge with less living yeast and more flour to feed them. They multiply better, don’t run out of food and stop reproducing, and therefore the bread and biscuits rise higher from the gas produced by the abundant lively yeast. Your bread will have nice high air bubbles in it and it won’t be a dense brick. For bread, reduce the amount of water you use when feeding your starter until you have it thick enough. Then, every 1 – 2 weeks stir in ¼ cup flour and 1/8th cup water to the starter to keep it fed. Feed more often if you are depleting the starter to less than ¼ cup. I keep only ¼-1/2 cup on hand. It only takes 1 tablespoon to make a sponge for bread so I don’t keep a large amount of starter ready.
Keep it capped in the refrigerator. Some cooks keep another jar of runny starter to use in pancakes and other recipes. If hooch (stinky liquid) forms on top, you can pour it off or stir it back in. This happens if the starter has not been fed for too long, no matter, it’s still good starter and you’ll know it wants to be fed.
Sponge for bread or biscuits: When you want to make bread you start by making a sponge, or getting the yeast excited and active. Mix a sponge the night before you plan to use it or early morning if you want to use it for dinner biscuits. I use the same 1/4 cup tool for all the measurements so instead of saying 1/2 cup, you will see 2/4 cups.
In a glass container or small crock mix gently
¾ cups flour (bread flour is best but all purpose if fine)
2/4 cups lukewarm water
1 heaping tablespoon starter (the thick starter)
Cover with light cloth or a loose fitting dish that lets a little air in. Let it stand (or sit) on the counter over night or at least 6 hours.
The sponge will increase its volume, rise higher in the crock, and then settle back down so you could see a line to where it expanded. That’s fine. It should look bubbly.
Note: If you leave the sponge too long the yeast critters will have eaten all the flour protein and start to die and lose strength for making bread rise. They will need more food so, only in this case, add 2/4 cups more flour and ¼ cup water and let it eat a couple hours longer to form enough gas needed for rising. If I added more flour in this case, I subtract it from the amount needed for my bread recipe.
The recipe for 1 big loaf of bread, no knead method. OK, so you know about the starter, how to keep it thriving, and how to make a sponge hours before making your recipe. Now, let’s make the dough.
1st evening: make the sponge (above). I use bread flour for this. 3/4 cup flour, 2/4 cup warm water (not hot), 1 table spoon starter.
Next morning: add 2/4 cups bread flour and ¼ cup lukewarm water, gently stir it in. Cover crock with a dish again and let it set out all day. Doing this really boosts the energy for making bread rise!
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2nd evening: With the flour you added this morning, the sponge has expanded and gas has formed bubbles like the photos above. Use the sponge now and mix dough. You want a total of about 2 cups flour. You have already added ½ cup to the sponge this morning so that counts as part of the total flour you will need. Now you need to add 1 and 1/2 cups to make the 2 cups needed. You can use all white bread flour or mix with whole wheat, oat flour, or other grains. The more whole wheat and other grains you mix in, the more chance it won’t raise well. The more white flour, the better it will raise. I am able to get half the flour as whole wheat, after learning from many fails. Try changing your ratio of white and wheat flours if you have trouble. Try your first loaf with all white flour for success.
In a large glass bowl, mix dry ingredients.
¾ cups whole wheat flour
¾ cups bread flour
½ heaping tsp. baking soda (makes it form nice big gas bubbles)
½ tsp salt
optional Add up to 1/4 cup wheat or oat bran or other grain and 1 T. flax seed. The more I add, the less rise I get. Experiment to see what works for you.
Mix wet ingredients into the sponge in its crock, gently. First, I start with the water in a glass measuring cup with a pour spout, and add the oil next into the water. Oil coats the spoon so molasses slides off easily. Add the molasses then stir with measuring spoon. Then pour it all into the sponge in the crock and mix gently. It doesn’t all mix in and that’s fine. The sponge will deflate a little when you stir it.
½ cup lukewarm water
1T. olive oil
1T. molasses (optional but I like its color and flavor and I feel it helps feed yeast)
Add wet mixture to dry ingredients in the bowl, stir to mix it, no kneading unless only slightly if the color is not mixing into the dough. The color doesn’t all have to mix in; it will eventually mix and come out fine. Dough will be quite wet and sticky, that’s a good thing. Cover the bowl with a dish or lid. I use a dish as the lid to my big Pyrex mixing bowl. Leave it on the counter overnight. You can put it in the fridge a couple days for a slower rise and more sourdough flavor. If you do that, just take it out and let it warm to room temp slowly before the next step.
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Stir just enough to mix. It will look uneven but it all mixes and rises overnight.
Next morning: Stretch, don’t knead the dough. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured counter or board. Yes, it’s wet and may be kind of runny. Sort of scoop it up in a pile and invert the bow over it. Set your timer for 15-20 min., I use 20. Go drink your coffee or do yoga and let it rest. In 20 min. lift off the bowl and stretch the dough gently on one side, then the opposite side, then one end, then its opposite end. Flour it and flour your hands as needed so you can handle it. It will resemble pizza dough. Fold one side onto the middle part of the dough. Fold its opposite side onto it forming a long pile. Then fold each end up the same way into a heap, turn it over onto the floured board, cover with the bowl and let it rest 15-20 min. again. You can look at some video examples below. Try not to let it tear, you are stretching the dough to let it form gas, those nice big bubbles we like in sourdough bread. If it tears a little it’s firming up. Do this for a total of 3 rests and stretches after the initial rest. After the last stretch, let it rest up to 20 min. before forming the loaf.
Scrape out of bowl, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
You might like this video demonstration. This baker puts the dough back in the bowl between stretches and waits longer. I like my method better but I stretch the dough the same way. Each time I stretch it, the dough gets thicker and higher until it’s ready to form the loaf. Here is another video demonstration for stretching dough. His dough is as wet as mine often is, he uses a scraper, but he only stretches dough once for a different effect. Again, he starts with very small amount of starter. You really don’t need much.
Form the loaf: Shape the loaf and then put in into an oiled loaf pan or on an oiled baking sheet, and let it rise at least an hour or until double which may take a half day or longer. Whole wheat takes longer to rise. I use my 3 qt. cast iron sauce pan, oiled on bottom and sides all the way up. It usually rises higher than the sides of this pan. Or I use my clay bread loaf pan. Or I form a long baguette or Italian loaf or ciabatta rolls and put them on a baking sheet. Usually it’s the cast iron sauce pan, no lid. Cover with light cloth to rise. To avoid drafts I let it rise in the oven. No heat in summer oven but in cool seasons I heat my oven to 110 degrees, or as cool as I can, turn it off and let bread raise in the slightly warm oven. If the oven is too warm it kills the yeast so be careful. 110 is just right.
Baking: Remove bread from oven while preheating to 400. You can leave it in during preheating if you like but I don’t. Bread will have an “oven spring” usually, rising even more. Bake 20 – 25 min.. It should be nicely browned and sound solid when you thump it with your fingers. Cool on rack. Mine usually pops out of the pan without too much work. I run a butter knife around the edge to be sure it’s loose. “Completely cool it before cutting as it will keep cooking while it cools.” That rule never works at my house! We eat it warm, turned on its side to cut, with butter and honey. A round loaf gives you lots of chances for crusty heals.
I’ll post my recipe for focassia bread in a future post. Remember, if your bread turns out flat you can always call it flat bread, slice it horizontally for sandwiches or use it for dipping bread or thin crusts with spreads. When bread gets dry I make croutons or grind it for panko.
My favorite sourdough recipes are here. I’ve reworked and modified his recipe for 5 loaves to make the 1 loaf recipe you just read. The biscuits on his site are the best! Scroll down to find them in the link. Have fun and let me know how it works out for you!
I can’t think of a more fun wild food to harvest than morel mushrooms. The spring hunt gets me into forests early and, though unproductive until the right sustained temperatures range between 40 and 65 degrees, searching for the elusive fungus is a great way to break in new hiking boots and strengthen muscles for more vigorous summer trekking. In the Payette National Forest the morels are ON now.
No doubt I walk past more than I find, like this one I spied playing peek-a-boo with me. Look again at the first photo and you’ll see that its companion was hiding next to it, just out of sight. These two photos are of the same finding, different perspectives. It’s all how you look at it. No, really. Sometimes turn around and look where you just came from. Just by looking back I’ve found deer and whales following me. (Whales follow my boat, of course; they don’t visit the forest.)
I discovered some just pushing forth through the forest floor, showing that they can grow to full size below warming moist duff as they emerge. This one was larger than a golf ball.
Another much larger one was trying its darndest to force its way through the floor on its side. I helped it, of course. You can see only about a third of it in this photo.
According to Mother Earth News it’s not necessary to cut mushrooms off at their ground level. Pulling up the whole thing has no effect on it growing back next year because mushrooms grow by spore dispersion. I cut them off in the field so they are easier to clean when I get home and to leave a little more nourishment in nature. I carry a soft mesh shopping bag to transport my fine little friends so their spores can fall out to reproduce, assuring more gathering opportunities in the future.
My family taught me to be wary of bears any time I’m in their habitats, especially when gathering mushrooms and huckleberries. This is one of two bears that crossed my acres at dusk several days ago. Neighbors found 2 more, so we had four that we know of in our little area that evening.
That same day a rancher drove cattle across our pasture and up our creek to the range land above us.
This is probably why so many bears came down at once. Even they don’t want to camp with bovine.
I take one or two German Shepherds with me when I hunt mushrooms but that doesn’t assure protection. A bear might chase your dog who will run right to you, or run away and leave you with the beast. Mom’s German Shepherd was so brave and persistent getting after a bear in her brush near her pond that it got its tail bitten off. We called her Bob after that. I wear a whistle around my neck but I’ve never had to use it in a bear encounter. If I remember, I sing or hum a little song, or recite poems so the bears hear me and they stay clear before I ever see them. Sea chanties work nicely. My friend, Nancy, bells her dog and it makes enough noise running around to let bears know they’re not alone. My girls are worn out after leaping every fallen tree they could find.
With little training I recognize a bear wallow, though an elk had marked it overnight with scat so maybe it was an elk wallow. Uh . . . but it was awfully close to this tree where a bear had dug after insects.
Another clue is fresh scat. VERY fresh! See how wet it is?
And some more scat nearby, a little older.
At home, I carefully rinse the catch and then give them a 30 minute soak in heavily salted cool water to dislodge tiny critters that inhabit the fungus. Then I rinse them again, gently squeeze out the water and lay them on towels to dry a little. Mother Earth News says not to clean them and I agree they would feel firmer that way. But I disagree about their bugs and worms leaving with less encouragement.
Meantime, I tend to the sourdough sponge so I’ll have fresh bread to dip in the morel drippings later. If I’m going to eat them soon I store them in a paper bag or wrapped in paper towls in a bowl in my fridge. To preserve them for later, I dry the mushrooms by running a long thread through them with a small needle and then hanging them in a sunny window if it’s a sunny day. But it’s raining here a lot now so I filled 2 dehydraters with them and dried them in the kitchen. Fillet large morels lengthwise so they dry quicker. Mother Earth News has a different method, still without cleaning them first. After drying them I package them in freezer bags or glass jars and put them in the freezer for a couple of weeks to kill any more enzymes that could cause trouble in storage. Then I store them in glass jars or crocks with lids. To rehydrate for use, I put them in a cereal bowl with just enough water to cover them for about 20 minutes. Mother Earth News wants to soak them for 2 hours but that seems way too long. Either way, save the liquid to use in morel sauce and gravy.
Skip the onions and garlic. Morels are so flavorful why distract the taste with anything added? I put just enough olive oil in the bottom of a frying pan to coat it, and add a small slice of butter for flavor. No salt or pepper even. Saute on medium heat gently for only about 5 minutes. Don’t overcook or they get tough. The best of the best recipes is to fry a steak in a cast iron skillet first, then remove it and stir up the brownings. Add olive oil if needed, butter if you like. Saute the morels and then remove them from the pan. Stir up the drippings again, and then stir in flour before adding the reserved liquid (above) or some water a little at a time. Keep stirring gently to prevent lumps until you get the thickness you want. Adjust the amount of liquid as you like. Another way is to skip the flour and instead shake a small jar that has a little corn starch and liquid in it, then add it all at once to the pan and stir, stir, stir.
I’ve spent valuable hunting and gathering time creating this post so it’s back to the forest I go now. Mother Earth News has more information about morels, though I disagree with some of it. And at the end of their discussion they post more sites about the fungus.
Hugh Addington, born in 1894, began cooking sourdough biscuits and hot cakes for his family’s sheepherding trips in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains when he was a boy. He continued using sourdough all his 84 years. A staple in the camp box, and later in his kitchen, he kept his starter fed and ready. If he ever ran out he made more with this recipe.
I am his grand daughter and I won’t tell you how many years I have been making more than biscuits and hot cakes with his starter. If you want some of my favorite recipes for what to do once you have the starter, just ask.
What you need:
small glass jar with lid
pot for boiling potatoes
small crock or glass mixing bowl
1 or more potatoes
1 cup reserved liquid from boiled potatoes
1 cup flour, all purpose flour will do but you could try whole wheat flour or bread flour
What you do:
Boil the potatoes until soft, making sure you will have at least a cup of water left when done. Leave skins on if they are organically grown. Drain, reserving liquid. Use the potatoes for any recipe you like. Cool to room temperature the reserved liquid that the potatoes have been boiled in.
When liquid has cooled to room temperature, measure 1 cup of it. Stir the cup of liquid into to the cup of flour in a small crock or glass mixing bowl. Don’t use a blender or mixer for this, stir by hand.
Cover the crock or glass bowl with a paper towel or light dish cloth and let it sit on the counter for 24 – 48 hours. It will gather yeast from the air and begin to ferment. You will probably see the hooch form on top of the batter. Hooch is the fermentation, rather ugly and brownish.
Gently stir the starter, pour it into the glass jar, put on the lid and store it in the fridge until ready to use.
To use the starter, take it out the night before. You have to make a “sponge” or “freshen” it. Put a half cup of starter in a crock or glass mixing bowl. Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup warm, not hot, water, cover it lightly and let it sit for 6 hours or longer.
Feed the starter every week or two. I feed mine almost every time I use it so I don’t run too low. Add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water to the starter, stir it in to mix. Or take some of the sponge and stir it back into the starter. Store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it again. If you don’t use the starter within 2 weeks, add flour and water to keep the little yeast organisms alive.
The story of sourdough, and all the recipes, fascinates me. I could write too much about it. Search the web and you will find plenty of help. Here is my source for learning more about starters and recipes. If you click the link at the very bottom in this source, you will find really good easy recipes.