Monday, June 8, 2015

Sourdough (part one) and Badger Clark

Deep in the middle of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota,

lies a unique spot called "Badger Hole."

Surrounded by Ponderosa Pine trees and lofty mountains, this was once the home of Badger Clark, named Poet "Lariat" of South Dakota in 1937.

No, that isn't a misspelling. This Poet Laureate wrote western poetry about cowboys, the prairies, the mountains, the Bad Lands. He was born in Iowa and raised in South Dakota. When he contracted tuberculosis, he moved to Arizona where he became a cowboy, believing that hard work in the open air was the best cure.

According to a biographer, while in Arizona, he started writing down some lines, and sent his mother a few verses. She submitted them to a magazine, which sent him a check for ten dollars. This was the turning point of Clark's life. "If they pay for such stuff," he said, "I'm fixed. A job without a boss, without responsibilities, without hours."

In 1910 he returned to South Dakota with his health restored. He leased a cabin site in Custer State Park and built a one room cabin, where he lived for several years while building the larger cabin he called "the Badger Hole." He built the cabin himself, including cutting the logs and collecting the stones for the fireplace.

Here he lived until 1957, when he died on September 26. The Badger Hole is preserved just as he left it when he was taken to the hospital in 1957. Electricity and heat have been added, but nothing else. The cabin is open to the public, and a volunteer docent gives guided tours.

But a poet's life isn't bound by dates, or even the home in which he lived.

His life lives on in his words:

from "Small Town" by Badger Clark


No smoke of factories uprolls;
No market roars with shouted bids.
The small town's finest fruit is souls;
Its prize commodity is kids.


That is the small town's latent power - 
Some name upon its schoolroom page,
The future hero of the hour,
The future glory of an age.

'Twas always so; 'twill always be - 
Small town, the great folks' starting place,
A small-town boy in Galilee
Re-routed all the human race.

from "Pioneers" by Badger Clark

A broken wagon wheel that rots away beside the river,
A sunken grave that dimples on the hill above the trail.
The wind sweeps, the larks call, the prairie grasses quiver
And sing a wistful roving song of hoof and wheel and sail.

One of my favorite poems of his is "Cat Pioneers." You can read it here.

And then there's his best-known work, that very few people know he wrote, "The Cowboy's Prayer." 

When you're done reading the poetry, don't forget to come back here, because we're starting a project on Mondays in the Cafe.

Sourdough Starter

In honor of Badger Clark, the homesteaders and cowboys of South Dakota, and good cooks everywhere, I thought we'd try a classic recipe: Sourdough.

I don't know about you, but I've tried sourdough in the past. Once I was given some that had been going for over a hundred years.

I killed it.

I've attempted starting my own.

I killed that, too.

But I've been reading, researching, and planning. Maybe it will work this time!!!!

So this week, we're going to begin the sourdough starter. 

This is the equipment I'm using:

1 two-quart canning jar (it can be any glass jar or container, as long as it holds 4 cups)
a large, clean wooden spoon
cheese cloth, folded to several layers in thickness
a rubber band (to fasten the cheese cloth onto the jar)

And here are my ingredients:

1 cup rye flour (you can also use white flour, but I've read that the rye flour 'catches' the wild yeast more easily)

1/2 cup bottled water (without added chlorine)

The first day, mix the flour and water in a clean bowl with the spoon until completely combined. If there is some dry flour remaining after a couple minutes of stirring, add a few drops of water and mix it in. Put the starter in your glass jar or bowl and cover with the cheese cloth. Leave it on your kitchen counter at room temperature (70° to 75°).

Day 1

The second day, there will be no difference in the starter.

The third day, the starter should resemble thick pancake batter and have a few bubbles on the surface. With a clean spoon, remove and throw out about half of the starter (about 1/2 cup). Stir in 1/2 cup unbleached flour and 1/4 cup bottled water. Cover again and leave for 24 hours.

The fourth day, your starter may be giving off a faint citrus odor. Again, throw out about 1/2 cup, then stir in 1/2 cup unbleached flour and 1/4 cup bottled water. Cover and leave for 24 hours.

On day five, if the starter is active, it will have risen in volume to about 3 cups or more. It will dome and then start to deflate. If it isn't at this point yet, repeat the fourth day instructions every 24 hours until it reaches this point.

When it is active, remove about 1/2 cup, then feed it again with 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water. It's now ready to use, or to store until you're ready to use it. If you plan to store it, let it sit for one hour, then cover it tightly with plastic wrap and store it in your refrigerator. You should continue feeding cycle about three times a week while you are storing it, at least for the first few weeks. Once it's fully mature, you can feed it only about once a week.

Next week, if all goes according to plan and my starter has matured, we'll try a loaf of bread!

Consider this the cliff-hanger! Will the wild yeast refuse to be harnessed? Or will Jan kill her sourdough starter AGAIN??? Will the starter last long enough to earn a name? Tune in next week!


  1. I DO love sourdough bread! It makes the best grilled sandwiches, too. Someone gave me a jar of sourdough years ago, and I used it for a few years before we moved and I gave it away. Best of luck with yours! :)

    1. You're right about those grilled sandwiches!

      And I'm going out on a limb here, because yesterday was my day 1. So if this fails, you'll all be my witnesses!!!

      Too late, way too late, I thought that maybe I should have started this a month ago and recorded my progress. Then if it failed, it would be my little secret.

      But no, you're all along for the ride :)

  2. I have that rocking chair and that same sink! LOL. But I don't have that beautiful cast iron pot. Have you seen the coast iron cooking group on facebook? Love that site. 20K people talking about cast iron... recipes, family stories, old photos (today someone posted their great grandmother stirring wash in a giant cast iron cauldron, long apron and dress, paddle at the ready).
    Anyway, I don't like the flavor of sour dough, but I'm going to show this to my bread making child and see if she's interested. She's fascinated by anything with yeast.
    Thanks for the intro to Badger Clark, who had such a fine collection of boots and command of the English language..

    1. I joined the cast iron group! Thanks for the heads up! I cook with my cast iron pots often, if not daily.

      The flavor of sourdough changes with the maker, I think. I've had some pretty sour sourdough bread with poor texture, but I've also had some delicious, chewy sourdough. So part of this journey (after we have a mature starter!) is to make a loaf of sourdough that works.

      I'm looking for slightly sour, moist bread with a dense, but not crumbly texture. We'll see what happens!

      Finally, you're welcome for the introduction to Badger Clark!


    There's the Cast Iron Cooking group and it has 173K members! I think my backyard chicken group has 22K. Anyway, you're probably already on there but I just love those people.

  4. Who knew there was a facebook group for cast iron lovers? And how on earth did Virginia find them?

    The Cowboy poetry -- priceless. After reading this post I'm yearning to be a cowboy too...and live in that cabin even if it might involve a snake or two...maybe.

    I love sourdough bread but have never tried making it. I may get brave and try your experiment too only do you think I could add spelt flour instead of white flour?

    1. I'd live in that cabin. It's high up enough above the ground to discourage snakes, and the quiet of the Hills would make it the perfect writer's retreat!

      You could try adding spelt flour instead of white in the starter, or you could use all rye flour. The main thing is that the starter needs to be fed. From what I could glean from my research, I think the white flour has either higher gluten or high carbs to feed the starter. But it seems like another flour would also work. After all, white flour was almost non-existent for pioneers, cowboys and gold miners.

  5. Jan, first of all I am shall we say, an extreme fan of cowboy poetry. I thought it kinda funny that he moved away to Arizona, though I get the dry air, and then came back to the mountains because in the East folks went to the mountains for the TB cure, just not the BIG REAL MOUNTAINS. Just those Appalachian foothills.

    I've always heard that sourdough is one of the most healthy breads around. Whether it was because of the starter or what, I miss it.

    Once again, I am thrilled to get a peak at the state you call home.

    1. I love cowboy poetry, too! I was thrilled when we 'discovered' Badger Clark a few years ago :)

      And yes, sourdough is supposed to be very healthy. I think it's the fermentation process. Either way, I'm not going to argue!

  6. What a wonderful place! What wonderful poems!

    And I'm so excited about this bread! I need to buy the ingredients so will be a little behind.