Still Staying at Home…

summary: needless panic buying; no yeast? make your own; alternative: make no-yeast breads; DIY project: grocery store masks;

There’s no danger of flour running out. The industry has access to grain, has capacity, and will produce products our customers/consumers want as fast as we can
-Christopher Clark, vice president of communications for the North American Millers’ Association
I can absolutely and unequivocally say there is no shortage. What we have is a demand issue.
– Robb MacKie, the president and CEO of the American Bakers Association
The extraordinary demand has put stress on flour production capacity, packaging capacity, transportation capacity, and warehousing capacity. This stress has resulted in some temporary shortages on the retail grocery store shelves. Rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to meet this unprecedented demand.
-Rogers Foods Canada

As the realization that toilet paper is perhaps not the item most needed in these times of having to stay at home, people have suddenly realized that they a.) have to eat, and b.) have plenty of time to spend in the kitchen!

Therefore, suddenly, both flour and yeast have become the new toilet paper. The flour shelves are virtually empty. Online flour companies cannot keep up with the demand – in spite of the fact that they state categorically that they have plenty on hand in their warehouses.

As a result of these “shortages”, in various news sources, and on FB, I’m suddenly seeing post after article after article giving or asking for advice on how to make a sourdough starter. And it’s driving me mad that there are answer after answer after answer pointing to sourdough starter recipes that call for huge amounts of it to thrown away.

Though the New York Times reported last week that there has been no major disruptions to the American food supply chain, consumers have been stockpiling. This fear-induced behavior has created an environment where grocery stores—which are typically stocked with enough items for daily, not multi-weekly, need—cannot keep up with demand. […]
“There has honestly never been a better time to build your own sourdough starter,” NYC-based pastry chef Zoe Kanan told me in an email. Requiring just flour, water, and time, sourdough starter relies on wild yeast naturally present in flour and in the air of your home.
– Rebecca Firkser, Food52 | Here’s Why All the Yeast Is Sold Out Right Now Plus, what to do if you can’t find it, 28 March 2020
[A]ll you really need to get a culture bubbling is some quality flour and pure water to farm the microbes responsible for fermentation. […]
In a small bowl, stir together 60 g / ½ cup flour and 60 g / 6 tablespoons water to form a thick and sticky mixture with no dry lumps remaining. Cover loosely with cheesecloth or a clean towel and set in a warm location for 2 to 3 days or until you detect a light, boozy scent and see bubbles breaking the surface. Discard half and add another 60 g / ½ cup flour […]
– Sarah Owens, Food52 | A Simple Sourdoube Starter, 8 March 2019

Discard half?! Why? And in these days of difficulty in finding flour on the supermarket shelves, it seems even more important not to throw any of your precious flour away.

Mercifully, there are a few people who are addressing this aspect of needless waste.

As more people bake their blues away while stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, yeast is reportedly becoming harder to find on grocery store shelves. […]
    The Verge asked Stephen Jones, director of Washington State University’s Bread Lab, for simple instructions. What you’ll actually be doing is capturing wild yeast and bacteria that’s already present in the air or in the flour to make a “sourdough starter.” This is what bakers have relied on for generations before commercial yeast became available less than 100 years ago. […]
    If you’re feeling at all intimidated, you can take comfort in knowing that people have been making bread this way for thousands of years. There’s very little risk of messing up your starter, according to Jones. It might smell a little “cheesy” around day three or four, but as long as it’s not slimy or smells putrid (this is rare, Jones says), then you’re in the clear. There’s also some flexibility, so none of the measurements Jones gives need to be exact and you won’t have to worry if you forget to “feed” the starter one morning. “We’ve got enough pressure right now,” Jones says. “Take the pressure off yourself and just relax and enjoy.”
– Justine Calma, The Verge | How to make your own yeast for baking
You probably already have what you need at home

“For home bread bakers who don’t have to make identical bread every day, the dirty little secret is that you can use a mature starter that’s not at its absolute peak and the bread will still work,” says Niko Triantafillou, an avid home baker whose full-time job is at Citigroup. Triantafillou started baking his own bread about five years ago for fun, and because, at least for him, naturally leavened breads taste better and are easier on the digestive system.
– Daniela Galarza, Epicurious | Do You Really Have to Discard Sourdough Starter?

We’ve been big fans of Jane Mason’s (All You Knead is Bread) 5 day “no discarding” starter since the outset. The whole wheat starter that I created (without throwing any of it away) in July 2017 is still going strong…..

  • How to capture wild yeast Natural Wheat Starter in 5 Days (100% hydration) based on a recipe in “All You Knead is Bread” by Jane Mason

In fact, the following statement from Jane Mason’s website (also echoed in her book), is exactly why we decided to try her method:

You do not need to feed your starter slavishly every day. I once found some of the 1857 in the back of the fridge that had been there for about 5 years. I refreshed it and made bread. Good as new. Remember, sourdough was used by people who did not have access to commercial yeast – cowboys rolled it up in their bed rolls, pioneering women transported it in the back of covered waggons, families living on the steppes of Russia managed to keep theirs alive in spite of harsh Siberian winters. You can freeze it, you can dry it, you can ignore it – it will always come back.
– Jane Mason, Virtuous Bread | Making sourdough starters

Tartine Bread

The really great thing about the internet in these sometimes tough times of physical distancing and staying at home is that there are several new bread-making tutorials appearing. The following section from Real Simple is great:

Has your starter been slumbering in the fridge? If so, it’ll be a little sleepy, leading to a reduced rise. The solution is to wake up your starter, revving its yeasts back into gear. Feed your starter the night before you plan to bake. Leave it out overnight. And feed it again in the morning—then wait for the right time to make dough […].
Call Your Active Starter Into Action at the Right Time.
[…] . To capture [your active starter] at its very best and most balanced, how long should you wait before you use it to make dough? The answer is—very roughly—four hours, or however long it takes for your room temperature starter to double in size. All starters work at different rates, so the time to double will vary.
– Chris Malloy, Real Simple | 10 Genius Ways to Bake Better Sourdough Bread

Can’t find yeast and you’re only on Day2 of creating your wild starter? Real Simple has excellent advice for that too: Real Simple | Short on Yeast? Here Are 3 Clever Ways You Can Bake Bread Without It

And here are OUR recipes:

  • Recipes from OUR kitchen
    » flatbreads (unyeasted: chapatis, paratha, roti jala, tortillas, farinata/socca, green onion cakes)
    » wild yeast recipes (crackers, bagels, bread, how to convert a yeast recipe into one using wild yeast, onion ring batter)

How the 2020 craze began:

One of my friends avidly follows Twitter news. In late March, she emailed me and (partly) jokingly asked if because of the 24 March 2020 Washington Post article, People are baking bread like crazy, and now we’re running out of flour and yeast, she should go out and get flour before it disappeared. Then, she added “Wait, that’s how panic buying starts!”

But she was already too late; the panic here had already occurred…. Our neighbours are
having groceries delivered and said they were unable to get flour because the company said they had no flour to deliver. Because we are still able to physically go to the grocery store, we went shopping
for other next door neighbours because the wait time to get on the list to have groceries delivered is about 2 weeks (!!) We were amazed to see the
flour shelves almost completely empty. But, we were able to get a 10kg bag of flour for our flourless friends – not our favoured brand, but at least it’s
flour! We got the 5th last bag of flour on the shelf. (Last week, at the beginning of April, there was zero flour on the shelf; it didn’t appear to be an April Fools’ joke….)

[S]ome who haven’t been able to get their hands on yeast have turned to baking with a sourdough starter, a process that involves a couple things people have more of these days: time and attentinon (there’s only so much cable news you can watch, after all). Emily Hoven, a graduate student at the university of Alberta in Canada, last Sunday started a thread on Twitter to walk people through the process of creating their own, captioning it “HOW TO MAKE SOURDOUGH AT THE END OF THE WORLD.”
– Emily Heit, Washington Post, Voraciously | People are baking bread like crazy, and now we’re running out of flour and yeast, 24 March 2020
DAY 1: mix equal parts flour and water in a container.
If you have a kitchen scale, do equal weights (I did 42 grams today—aim for somewhere around 40-50 grams). If you don’t have a kitchen scale, 3 tbsp water and 5 tbsp AP flour will get you to around 45 grams of each. […]
DAY 2: this morning, me do something called discarding—basically, it’s where we get rid of most of the old starter and replace it with fresh food for the bacteria and yeasts to digest. Scoop out most of the starter, leaving a generous tablespoon in the jar, and get rid of it.
– Emily Hoven (English and Film Studies, University of Alberta), Twitter, How To Make Sourdough At The End Of The World: A Thread, 21 March 2020

I would NOT use Emily Hoven’s method. It involves throwing flour away. So unnecessary!

If I had a twitter account (I do not dare – I already spend WAY too much time on the internet) I would reply to her thread.

Not that there’s anything terribly wrong with Emily Hoven’s method (except for the horrible waste of throwing away flour that is now at a premium), I much
prefer Jane Mason’s method outlined in her book “All You Knead is Bread”

We note that with people staying at home as a result of the COVID-19 virus, there has been an unprecedented demand for flour due to an increase in home baking. We can assure you that flour is continuing to be milled and we are continuing to ship to grocery retailers as well as to commercial bakeries. There is no need to buy more flour than you need. The extraordinary demand has put stress on flour production capacity, packaging capacity, transportation capacity, and warehousing capacity. This stress has resulted in some temporary shortages on the retail grocery store shelves.
– Rogers Foods Blog, Temporary Flour Shortages Due to COVID-19 Virus, 7 April 2020 (Rogers Foods is a British Columbia based company that has been milling flour and cereal products from Canadian grain for over 60 years.)
“We’re not going to run out,” said Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta wheat and barley commissions. According to the Canadian National Millers Association, he said, domestic mills are operating normally and have the capacity to continue, as their plants and staff are able to function within the new COVID-19 guidelines and there is no threat to the supply – other than people panic buying.
    “People are hoarding flour because they think we’re going to run out, but we have no evidence of that,” Steve said. “If there was even a hint of a shortage for Canadian consumers, we’d divert supplies to the Canadian market. The reality is we produce so much wheat, there would have to be a catastrophe for us to not have enough to supply the mills.”
– Julie Van Rosendaal, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Flour mills under pressure as new home bakers take to ‘COVID baking’ for comfort, 1 April 2020

Grocery Store Masks:

Since the news of the COVID-19 outbreak, I have been conflicted about mask-wearing and have been following the advice of WHO and Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer: only UNhealthy people should wear masks. I am especially conflicted when I see people wearing their masks incorrectly. Remember, if your nose is uncovered, you’re NOT wearing a mask!

But in view of the rapid changes that have occurred over the recent weeks, and considering that there are many people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have presented very few symptoms, I’ve decided that perhaps we DO need to make and wear home-made masks. Because, it seems – as long as the mask is worn properly, even a home-made cotton mask will offer some protection.

And gloves? Speaking of waste, I cannot abide the idea of wearing “one-use only” gloves and adding yet more plastic to land-fill. I will wear gardening gloves. They can be washed with soap and water, and they’re uncomfortable enough that I won’t be tempted to touch my face when I’m wearing them….

I made two masks each for both of us, not knowing how long it would take for them to dry after they were washed. Happily, the masks dry overnight.

It really does take a very short time to construct a mask – once the first one has been made….

Fabric Face Mask Pattern

Dana Willard’s ( fabric face mask pattern (yes, it’s free.)

A few things are missing from Dana Willard’s instructions… here are my revised instructions:

1. Cut 2 different patterned 100% woven cotton rectangles (23cm x 20cm for regular adult; 20cm x 20 cm for small adult/teen/child, 18cm x 18 cm for toddler) Try to get cotton fabric that is closely woven.

2. Cut 4 ties, each one 46cm long (bias binding or T-shirt material is best).

3. Finish the top edges of each rectangle: Fold edge over 3mm and stitch. Add (optional) nose piece top edge of rectangle that will be on the outside: Lay straightened plasticized paper clip at the middle of the top stitched edge. Fold edge over 3mm and stitch to secure. (I put the nose clips in at the end of construction, but it would be much easier to do this before sewing the rectangles together.)
nosepiece for cloth grocery mask
4. Lay ties on the corners of the right side of the fabric in an X pattern, making sure that the tie ends are coiled in the center. Making sure that the finished edges are both facing up, lay the second rectangle right-side inward on the coiled ties. Pin the corners, including the edges of the ties.

5. Starting at one side of the nose piece, stitch the rectangles together with a 13cm seam allowance. Make sure to leave the area where the nose piece is open! This will allow you to be able to insert a filter in the mask. Double or triple stitch at all corners to secure the ties. Turn the mask right side out and press the edges.

6. Making sure that the pleats are facing downward, fold the mask with 3 pleats. Pin!! Topstitch all the way around to secure the pleats but leaving the nose piece area open.

And there you have it. Remember, as Dana Willard says on her tutorial:

[T]his is not a replacement for PPE [Personal Protective Equipment]. The best thing we can do right now to lessen the curve and strain on our health care system is to Stay Home.

Grocery Store Masks

Here is another really good tutorial on how to make a fabric grocery mask: how to make a home-made mask (YouTube).

Stay safe, everyone!


Waste not, want not.

This entry was posted in baking, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, equipment and techniques, food & drink, whine, wild yeast (sourdough) on by .

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