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Colorado and High Altitude Cooking, with Memories of Life on the Farm, Sourdough Baking, and Lasting Friendships.
High Altitude Cookbooks
Two years on the Western Slope of Colorado
Before my husband Crow (you remember him ... the want-a-be farmer) and I moved to Colorado's Front Range, we lived in a small town on Colorado's western slope. Wow, what an experience! If you read my profile, you know that I grew up on a farm not far from the Wabash River, hence my user name. How can people be so different and yet the same? I felt like I had gone back home again. In both places, everyone knew everyone else and newcomers were watched. Newcomers could not make a cultural mistake. Sometimes, I thought I was doing just fine. I knew to hang undergarments on the center clothes line (between the sheets, of course). I knew what a mattock was and how to use it properly. I was also able to make terrific blackberry and wild raspberry jelly but soon learned that blackberries were hard to come by in that part of western Colorado. Being female in my family, I was not allowed to take guns out for practice like my brothers were. Sometimes, however, a brother let me tag along and try my luck. I think that was done to watch me as I held the shotgun away from my shoulder. I did see my share of animals being butchered and processed so, while I did not care to kill a deer or antelope myself, neither did I flinch at the sight of butchering. That was considered somewhat acceptable.
I had made great strides in becoming a 'naturalized' citizen of this town when my sister-in-law mailed a box of sassafras roots to me at our post office box. We had been away for a few days and, when arriving back in and picking up the mail, the postmaster greeted me with, "I'm so glad you're back. People have been driving me crazy, asking who got the sassafras, like it was a big deal." He must have been from Chicago or New York not to know how wonderful sassafras tea is. "I didn't tell them ... the privacy thing ... but someone could have figured it out."
We lived in a small garden level apartment; our landlords lived above us. The next morning, I was just about to make my first cup of the much anticipated tea when someone knocked on the front door. It was our landlady and, as we walked into the living room, I noticed her sniff the air. Crow smoked at that time but her husband did too so it shouldn't be the smell of tobacco.that raised her hackles. A fragrant scent led her to the kitchen where a small quantity of partial roots were simmering on the stove. When drinking our tea, I learned that she was originally from Tennessee. Orphaned in her early twenties, Mrs. S. decided to move to Colorado. She admitted to being a bit adventurous but had some kind of teaching certificate so was optimistic about the move. She met and married her husband. It appeared that she had begun to accept me as she shared personal information and later allowed me to help with difficult tasks.
In the meantime, our landlady helped us broaden our acquaintances by introducing us to Clara and Jim, a couple in their sixties. We shared an interest in antiques and Clara and I spent hours polishing silver, discussing hallmarks and possible reproductions, and following up on ads in the newspaper. The four of us often spent evenings in their live-in kitchen reminiscing while enjoying the soft glow of Clara's oil lamp which sat on a crocheted doily in the middle of their round oak table. I usually lounged on an extremely comfortable fainting couch, Clara reclined in her rocking chair, with Jim and Crow both comfortably seated. This, of course, was after cherry pie a la mode which was one of Clara's many specialties. The muted lighting never brought to anyone's notice the occasional tears when talking about painful memories.
Although Jim was accepted by the locals, Clara never was. Her first husband died and she divorced her second after he lost her in a poker game. Jim, of course, was her third so marrying three times was also a strike against her. Nothing, however, interfered with her painting, the enjoyment of antiques, and highlighting her natural attractiveness each morning. Cancer, however, did a few years later.
My oil lamp (similar to Clara's)
My sourdough jar
Clara shared some of her sourdough starter with me. I already had a crock jar that she assured me would work well. Her batch was kept in one very similar. Sure enough, the bread turned out nice and crusty with an excellent flavor and our pancakes were delicious. The only problem was that there was just the two of us, although I gave an occasional loaf to friends, I eat very little bread. So, there was just Crow to feed. You probably guessed it ... I let the sourdough die. Of course, when starters are passed down through generations, the person sharing is justly annoyed when the recipient kills off the gift. She would not give me more and, although I was secretly delighted, I pretended otherwise.
My sourdough, in memory of Clara
Although I never actually knew the details of Clara's family recipe, I do remember some of the ingredients used. The following is what I believe to be the mixture. I did have to adjust quantities a bit, however.
- One cup lukewarm water (bottled water is preferable ... no chlorine)
- 1/4 cup buttermilk (must be at room temperature when combining with the other ingredients)
- 1-3/4 cups unbleached flour
- 2 tablespoons white sugar (I use cane sugar)
- Mix well and place in glass or crock jar that is extremely clean or sterilized
- Let set in a consistently warm place (I used my electric range oven with the interior light on but I've heard that a gas range oven pilot light works well also).
- Second step: Combine all of the starter in a glass bowl with 1+ cups of flour and let set in a warm place for 12 hours. Use starter as you wish and try to keep it going but, if it dies, just start it some more.
- I wanted to make one loaf of French bread so I:dissolved 1-1/2 teaspoons of dry yeast in 3/4 cups of lukewarm water. In a different but large pyrex bowl, I mixed 1/2 cup starter, then added 2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, and then added the yeast mixture, mixing well. I covered the bowl with a cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk
- I mixed a 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and mixed into the above dough.. You may need to add more flour but I did not. I kneaded the dough on a lightly floured board for about 10 minutes.
- I then placed the loaf on a greased parchment paper which I had sprinkled with whole oats because I had no corn meal and, again, left in a warm place until again doubled in bulk. I brushed the top with some cold water, and made the customary slashes in the top. Although I baked at 375 degrees, others might prefer 400. After 20 minutes, I brushed the top with egg whites mixed with a bit of water and continued baking for about 30 minutes or until brown. Make sure the bottom of the loaf is also somewhat brown. Check for doneness.
While the one picture shows the loaf on an All-American baking pan, I used a regular baking sheet instead. I was not sure how high the oven temperature would always be.
Following a recipe
I attempted this starter recipe three different times but the first two times the mixture molded. I checked and rechecked the ingredients but did not find any mistakes with ingredients, quantities, and times. It was not until I was preparing to combine the ingredients for the third mixture that I realized that our well water could have caused the mold to form. Instead of using our well water for this batch, I used bottled water. The mixture did not grow mold. You could also choose to boil the bottled water just to be certain. Additives to city water might have an effect on your starter also.
When trying any recipe, do not take shortcuts. For example, when making the starter, DO NOT heat the buttermilk.. Set the quantity you need (in a glass or plastic container) on a counter or table and let it warm to room temperature.
Will be sharing old family recipes again and you will be able to read more about Crow's adventures on my next hub.