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Sourdough Starter

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“I’m going to shut it down,” said Ada.

“Why?” said Eke. “Mum would have wanted you to have it, to keep it going.”

They were standing outside the bakery. The bakery that their mother had worked and fought to build. The bakery that had paid for their education. The bakery that had been their childhood playground. The bakery where Ada, despite her desire to avoid being anything like her mother, had found her passion. 

“I just can’t,” said Ada.

Eke put his arm around his sister and turned her to face the bakery.

“You and I both know you’re meant to be here,” he said softly. “But I’m not going to make that decision for you. I only ask that you make something for the wake this afternoon. It would mean a lot.” 

Ada looked into her brothers face. She shrugged off his arm and walked into the bakery. 

She walked straight to the office in the back, avoiding looking at the empty chair at the large desk. 

“You’ve got to make dough, to make dough.” 

That’s what her mother had always said to her. Even in those last days, when her voice had grown hoarse and her arms could no longer knead dough into submission as she had done for decades. 

Ada put on her apron and toque, and then walked over to the preparation counter. 

“Wash your hands first,” her mother would say. “Cleanliness is next to godliness, and you know that God is the Master Baker.”

Ada would laugh, “Tell me mother, how so?”

“How do you think He made the manna?” her mother would ask, eyes sparkling. “Don’t you know that it is the bread of heaven.”

Then she would belt out her favourite part of that old hymn, “Bread of heaven, bread of heaven. Feed me till I want no more. Feed me till I want no more.”

Ada grabbed the ingredients: flour, salt, sourdough starter, water, sugar and her secret herb and spice blend. She loved the simplicity of the ingredients and the fact that such humble elements could make something so captivating. 

“This sourdough starter has been in our family for many generations,” her mother would tell her. “It’s ancient, as old as the pyramids is what my grandmother said.”

Ada measured and mixed the ingredients. Baking was a science. Precise measurements were required to procure the intended culinary wonder. 

“What’s your favourite thing about baking?” Ada had asked one day.

“It’s the sourdough starter of course,” her mother had looked over to see Ada’s puzzled face. “You see, every loaf or roll or pastry ever made with this sourdough connects us with our ancestors. When I bake, I’m standing, and kneading and rolling alongside my mother, my grandmother, my grandfather and all those who came before me.”

Ada closed the oven door and walked over to the stool. She sat down and looked around. The place felt full even though it was empty. Memories of herself and her mother crowded the space. She closed her eyes. 

She could smell the tangy sourdough starter, the aromatic bread rising in the oven, and the scent of her mother, still lingering in the bakery.

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