This is a blog about the unexpected journey I’ve found myself on, thanks to a chance encounter my husband made in a wet muddy field in Wales!  He was attending and talking at the Do Lectures. Rain reached pretty much the neck and shoulders of every one there but failed to dampen any busy and spirited soul that attended.  Amongst this wonderful group of doers there was one particularly cheerful individual called Tom Herbert.  They got on well, swapped a few stories, kicked back in the mud and drank tea..and my husband returned with a new pet.

As far as pets go, I wasn’t necessarily in need of another. We have 5 spaghetti chewing Warrens.  Then there’s our three dogs, an Australian Cattle Dog, a rather enthusiastic (but dim, should have called her Tim) Labrador and spankingly bright Parsons Terrier. There are also two cats that hover on the edge of our curtilage, waiting for a clear path to their cat flap, salvation (from said terrier) and food. Finally we have three free range children, one of whom decided to spend all her savings on 5 prissy, trousered bantams.  I figured up until now we’ve actually done quite well.  We’ve avoided ponies (my MIL failed to convince us as to the advantages.. “a healthy distraction” ), ducked peoples’ surreptitious efforts to palm off a rabbit/hamster/ferret when we weren’t looking, and don’t have fish languidly orbiting an aquarium in the kitchen.  I even escaped the “perfect pet” corn snake phase.

So, my husband arrived home, still soggy from Wales, but babbling enthusiastically about wonderful new friends, inspiring stories and.. a present for me!  We squeezed into the warm kitchen; he started to steam, independently of the kettle whistling away on the stove. The micro fog parted and there on the kitchen counter, was my new pet.  Contained safely within a kilner jar was a pale semi-liquid little beast of softly bubbling sourdough. “Have a smell” he offered.  Flipping the lid, I stuck my nose into the jar.


“I know it’s amazing isn’t it!  It’s ALIVE!”  Oh good god.

This is not going to be a recipe for the perfect sourdough loaf. One, because I’m still working on it and two, because the perfect sourdough depends on what you were setting out to create. Perfection is a personal viewpoint – it’s all in the mouth of the chewer!

After a quite a few disasters (or ‘flying saucers’ as our son optimistically named them), at last my pet – christened Tom The Belcher – and I have formed an easy alliance, one that I’d like to call symbiotic, but I think that possibly I’m getting more out of this relationship than he is, such is the pleasure he brings to me and my family. Tom The Belcher has even sired offspring!  Balthazar is residing happily in North Cornwall, while – in the true spirit of our pioneering forefathers – another has travelled far, and now lives in a warm kitchen in Seattle. Inspiringly, the new owner named her sourdough Chilkoot2 (a mountain pass in Alaska) in honour of her grandfather who always carried a sourdough starter during the gold rush.

The most wonderful aspect of this journey is the rediscovery of a forgotten pleasure. Kneading. How on earth did the breadmaker ever get accepted as part of our culture?  I’ve never used one, I’m far too selfish to hand over my part in this joyous process. I’ve no doubt it’s encouraged people to be braver in approaching the apparent enigma of bread making. But, this usurper denies people a most precious and rare commodity.. head space to think.  I love the physicality of making bread, the warm and pliable soft belly of dough, the rhythm of kneading that allows for mind-surfing, and then the gathering of these thoughts into embryonic ideas and plans. This undeniable pleasure is born of such the simplest of tasks; one that has been performed for millennium; one that I am passing on to our children.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t anticipated adding to our numbers, but unlike the prissy, trousered bantams, this pet is very undemanding, burps in hearty appreciation of the simplest of foods (water and flour), and keeps on giving.