Thursday, July 25, 2024
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Bread making and a museum-quality yeast starter

This is a story about a 25-year-old bread yeast starter that sits in a museum in Belgium, found its way into a Hawaii-led experiment about space, and may one day rocket to Mars. A part of that starter now lives at my house where it generously provides us the base for excellent tasting bread.

The colony growing in my fridge lives a far more pedestrian life than its cousins who are being primed for the Final Frontier, but is still just as appreciated. Here’s how it came to me:

In February, my snowbird friend Sarah Rose was on her annual winter vacation here, fleeing the cold of New York City. My daughter Olivia and I went to visit her at her best friend, Kim Binsted’s, house here on Oahu. Kim and Sarah were on a bread making kick, so Olivia asked for a piece of the starter. She likes to bake.

They gave it to her (thank you again!), along with a really interesting story about this yeast’s pedigree and how it found its way to Kim’s house. Kim heads up a world-famous science project at the University of Hawaii. She is the principal investigator for the Hawaiʻi Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) Mars simulation project. So far, they’ve only gotten as far as the Big Island (whose higher slopes mimic the environment of Mars), but maybe one day they’ll get to another planet.

If and when they do, a chef and author in San Francisco, Michael Kalanty, wants his yeast on that flight. He had read about the Mars project in the news, and wondered what it’s like to bake bread under different gravity conditions. He contacted Kim and offered to share some of his most robust yeast, Lucky Lady 99, if she would consider shipping it to space.

Lucky Lady 99 produces such delightful bread, it has a place in the Puratos World Heritage Sourdough Library in St. Vith, Belgium- the world’s only sourdough library whose goal is to store and safeguard the world’s best sourdough cultures. Being a devoted carbs freak, I wholeheartedly support its mission.

We knew Lucky Lady 99 makes great bread because Sarah shared some of her loaves with us. Olivia’s now tending to her pet yeast every week and baking us bread, too. Our yeast may not be going to space, but we think the bread it makes tastes out of this world 🙂

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