Chuckwagon and Sourdough 

Chuckwagon cooks are frequently referred to as “sourdoughs.” Not just because the front part of the word, “sour” refers accurately to their legendary personality trait, though, that is certainly often valid. The term refers to their use of an age-old leavening agent derived out of necessity from natural ingredients known as “sourdough.” Being in remote locations and often days from grocery stores, and rapid rise yeast packets, chefs of the range resorted to the tendency of sweetened flour and water mixtures, combined with root crops like potatoes, to grow a culture of natural yeast and bacteria. These “starters”, then would help bread and biscuits “rise.” They would also impart their particular tangy flavor to dough goods.
Some starters are more than a century old, kept going in families and institutions, but we often make them up on the spot for short-term use. This is what I was up to one day when I stirred water, flour, potatoes and molasses into my Marshall pottery crock to use for a feast we were preparing. It being a warmish day, I set the crock on the bed of our old Dodge ranch truck, parked in the shade of the tractor shed, to “work. “And “work” it did! The next day I returned to find the bed of the pick up “Painted” in off-white sourdough and smelling like a brewery! The cheesecloth was 10 feet away! Fortunately, I had mixed up a double batch, so there was still enough starter to make biscuits for the chuckwagon that day. I only wish that I could have been there to see Old Faithful erupt!

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