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Communal Tins of Sourdough Starter Are Popping Up On Trees in San Francisco

Yes, there’s a Google map, too

Outer Sunset resident Joe T. launched an Instagram account devoted to his sourdough adventures on March 28.
Joedoughbakes/Instagram

It’s no secret that everyone and their brother is suddenly into baking bread — one can’t open up Instagram without being confronted with a slew of loaf brags, many from folks whose accounts never before demonstrated an interest in the pursuit, all eager to show off their new skill. Now ABC 7 reports that San Franciscans are taking the social media concept of sharing offline, and are now sharing their sourdough starters by attaching them to power poles and trees.

For those who have somehow missed out on the baking-at-home boom (a trend so pervasive that Google searches for “bread” hit an all-time high), sourdough starter is a fermented mixture of flour and water that allows bread to rise. Here’s Eater’s Dayna Evans (whose “Everyone’s Making Sourdough Now — Here’s How to Get Started” is everything you need to jump on the breadwagon) on starter:

Guides in hand, the first thing that you’re going to need to make bread is a sourdough starter. A starter — also known as a levain, a mother, or a pre-ferment — is a lively mixture of flour and water combined with wild yeast and good bacteria captured from the air. It’s the ingredient that enables your sourdough bread to rise and what gives it its signature tangy flavor.

If you don’t have a starter right now, don’t worry. This King Arthur Flour recipe will teach you how to make your own at home, and though the slow process means you won’t be able to make bread right away (you’re waiting for your starter to come alive — you’ll start to see some activity after three days), you’ll get bragging rights for having made yours from scratch. Alternatively, Cook’s Illustrated’s Andrew Janjigian is teaching people how to make their own #quarantinystarter through his newsletter, and baker Lexie Smith has enlisted volunteers through her site Bread on Earth to send dried sourdough culture to interested parties around the world. You’ve got options!

One option Evans didn’t predict was San Francisco’s dedication to quirk, as evidenced by signs posted to trees in spots across the Mission, Noe Valley, Bernal Heights, and Potrero Hill. “SOURDOUGH STARTER & (occasional) BAKED TREATS UP FOR GRABS!!” one sign reads. “Starter name: ‘Freddie, Son of Godric’ fed with all-purpose flour.” Also attached to the trees are jars or tins with the bacterial concoction inside, just there for the taking.

The effort to spread Freddie and his ilk has spawned a “Victory Dough” Google Map, that in its description says, “It all started with a neighbor’s Nextdoor.com post offering his hungry and active starter (named Godric) that he hung on a Bernal Heights telephone pole and inviting everyone into sourdough bread-making.” As of publication time, the map boasts 10 spots at which starter has been placed, and users can edit the map and add their own drop-off points.

Sourdough bread is “a nutritional and long-lasting treat, perfect during these times of anxiety, uncertainty, and limited grocery runs,” the anonymous, map-making starter-sharer writes. “With many of us left with a bit more free time, it is nice to fill it with sharing (safely) with others and baking!”

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