- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

EAGLE RIVER, Alaska (AP) - The tradition of baking sourdough bread is alive and bubbling well in the kitchens of locals - some of whom are using starters dating decades back in the state’s history.

Well-known as the mainstay of early settlers and gold miners to make a simple loaf of bread, the use of sourdough in baking has expanded to pancakes, cookies, muffins and breads mixed with other whole grains such as rye, prairie gold, spelt and barley.

“The traditional sourdough bread prepared with a starter has a delicious flavor,” Kathe Kale of Chugiak said, “but tends to be too heavy for modern tastes.”

Kale is the owner of Living Proof Alaska, a whole foods distributor that also sells the milling equipment necessary to process whole grains at home. She teaches courses on how to prepare whole foods and the nutritional value of whole foods such as sourdough.

Annie Goulet, also of Chugiak, is one of Kale’s students.

“Kathe taught me so much about the nutritional value of sourdough made from a starter,” Goulet said. “It is just so much higher than the breads you buy at the store. I prefer baking this for my family.”

Originally from Fairbanks, Goulet grew up on sourdough products made from her grandmother’s starter.

“I can remember having sourdoughs as young as about 10. My mom got starter from her, and then we got some from my mom.”

Her Aana (grandmother) was originally from Kotzebue but later lived on the same property as her parents in Fairbanks. Goulet recalls being called down to her grandmother’s cabin to find her Aana baking sourdough pancakes. Once finished, Goulet carried the pancakes back to her parents’ home.

“I remember how delicious those were,” she said. “They were so thick. It was a treat and it made me feel special.”

Today, Goulet still prepares a variety of sourdough products - including pancakes that her husband, John, heartily enjoys - in her kitchen. She makes bannock, a traditional round-shaped fry bread that’s eaten plain or with spreadable treats such as dips, hummus, jellies or jam. Doing so makes her feel closer to her Inupiat relatives, she said. It brings back memories of making muffins from leftover sourdough pancake mix, spending time with her grandmother and learning how to tan rabbit hides with sourdough.

When she takes the crock where her sourdough starter lives out from the fridge, she goes down memory lane.

“Putting the starter together the night before baking, and then the process in the morning makes me think that she (her grandmother) is not far from me,” Goulet said. “As I remember the time we had sourdoughs together, it brings smiles to my face and thankfulness for the memories.”

She also has memories of making sourdough for her own children, she said, who she notices don’t use sourdough as much as she does.

“Sourdough was a food source used in a time when life was a lot slower, simpler and planned out,” Goulet said. “Now, things are fast-paced. Foods need to be ready right now or without too much effort. Thankfully, some homemakers are getting back to the basics and finding the benefits to the ways our ancestors did things.”

Kale agreed. She said sourdough baking and maintenance of a sourdough starter is an investment.

“Successful sourdough takes time,” she said.

But for Kale, that time is well spent, and it reminds her of her own mother, who began using sourdough in 1966 when the family moved to Alaska.

Kale said doing modern-day sourdough makes her feel like more of an Alaskan.

“It makes me think of the early pioneers,” she said. “It makes me thankful the tradition has remained alive.”

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