My Friend Herman

ceramic crock

From the Editor: Please welcome Julie Feickert, Cultures for Health Founder and Cultured Kitchen Keeper.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother would let us stir Herman. Herman lived in an olive and brown patterned ceramic crock in Grandma’s fridge. I never thought to ask where he came from or what he was used for. I just knew he needed to be stirred and it was fun!

Each visit, we would pester and plead with her to let us stir Herman and at some point she would acquiesce and bring the crock out of the fridge. Within moments the lid would come off and our noses were greeted with a pleasant sour smell that was unique in my world. Grandma would sprinkle some white flour over the top, and we would each take turns with the wooden spoon carefully stirring Herman around, ever so careful not to spill any over the edges. Given that there were four of us kids, I admire Grandma (and Herman’s) patience! The lid would go back on and Herman would be returned safely to the fridge.  This ritual was repeated countless times over the years and was always a high point.

wooden spoon stirring sourdough

It was only a few years ago that it dawned on me that Herman was a sourdough starter. I don’t remember exactly when it occurred to me although I suspect it may have been triggered by the smell of carrying for my own sourdough starter. Smells can trigger such powerful memories—even 30 years later! When I close my eyes I can see the beautifully patterned crock, the heavy lid, and smell Herman’s sour smell like it was yesterday.

Lately I’ve been spending some time trying to figure out why stirring Herman meant so much to us and why it’s such a deeply embedded memory for me. I suspect it has a lot to do with the ritual of it. The process was the same each time from Herman coming out of the fridge, to adding the flour, to stirring, to returning him to the fridge. He was a constant presence each time the fridge was opened and I now suspect provided the base for many of the delicious baked goods we enjoyed while at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

As I’ve grown older, and especially as I’ve become a mother of young children, I am becoming more appreciative of the rituals involved with preparing our food as well as caring for the many cultures that allow us to eat such a delicious, nutrient rich diet. Thinking more about Herman lately has inspired me to start considering how I can better incorporate my own children into more daily and weekly food rituals.

I wish I knew what became of that crock or even Herman himself. I think I’ll email my aunt today and see if I can track down the crock. Maybe just maybe it’s still around somewhere. I think I could put it to good use.

Julie Feickert

Julie Feickert

Julie Feickert started Cultures for Health in late 2008. She is the mother to three young children and enjoys cooking and reading. Her favorite cultured foods include water kefir and kombucha. Julie lives with her family in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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  1. Jennifer R. says

    Julie, you won’t believe this, but we named our gluten-free sourdough starter…. and his name is Herman!! We love to tell folks about Herman, and refer to him in that way whenever we’re talking about sourdough. What a great story, thank you for sharing. Food has an amazing ability to capture our memories.

  2. Josephine Fu says

    I love this! For the past year, I have been keeping a sourdough starter in my oven (note: it is not turned on and serves as a safe place from the kids.) Since I bake pretty often, I feed it every morning. My children like to ask if they can touch it and sometimes stir it. Often I don’t let them because I don’t want them dirty their fingers when I am trying to get them ready for school. Your article makes me realize that I might be starting a tradition. I should really relax and let them try while they have the interest. BTW, my sourdough does not have a name yet. Perhaps I should, because it is such a faithful friend giving our family delicious and nutritious breads.

  3. Pat says

    Could one of you please give us some info regarding the difference and preference for the oven or the refrigerator for this? Thanks.

  4. Steve J says

    You would use the oven (off) if you wanted to keep a sourdough culture at room temperature–using daily.
    The refrigerator slows down the culture, useful if you use it only weekly or biweekly.

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