Traveling with mi Madre in Ecuador

by Sarah Owens


2013 took me by surprise.  Subscribers responded with enthusiasm and support for BK17's first official year in business and the sourdough experience just keeps getting richer.  Maintaining a full-time career with two part-time businesses on the side was no fair feat and a six week break in Ecuador sounded like just the reprieve a tired baker/gardener needed.  Little did my starter know, it would be taking the journey as well!

A typical panaderia in Cuenca, Ecuador

A typical panaderia in Cuenca, Ecuador

The book project that is in the works was receiving positive feedback from publishers by the time my bags were packed and I knew it wasn't wise to take time off without baking.  In addition to the cathartic pleasure that comes with leavening bread, the temptation of a year-round local growing season with exotic fruits and vegetables was an engagement I couldn't resist.  So I plotted to pack my starter...

Mercado 9 de Decembre in Cuenca, Ecuador features an endless selection of potatoes, beans, peas, and exotic fruits like babaco, maracuya, and naranjillo.

Mercado 9 de Decembre in Cuenca, Ecuador features an endless selection of potatoes, beans, peas, and exotic fruits like babaco, maracuya, and naranjillo.

True, I could have cultured a new one once I was in the country but the challenge of traveling with mi Madre was one I welcomed.  I developed a strategy to get it through the 12 hours of travel time to Quito and crossed my fingers.  After a few back-to-back feedings, I divided it into two portions and tucked them in the freezer.  Ten minutes before I left for the airport, I put one in my carryon and one in my bag to be checked.  This turned out to be a smart option since my checked bag was lost in Mexico for almost a week.  I had doubts my bag would show up at all, let alone with my valuables.  But it did!  With a dead starter of course.

Mi Madre bubbling away happily in Quito after a 12 hour journey.

Mi Madre bubbling away happily in Quito after a 12 hour journey.

Unfortunately, the bread revolution hasn't seemed to reach Ecuador.  There is a vast selection of panaderias scattered throughout each modest sized town but they all seem to serve up the same uninspired rotation of soft white rolls and sweets.  At $0.15 per bun, I suppose I shouldn't complain but quitting good bread cold turkey has been a bit torturous!

Thankfully, the portion in my carryon thawed and awoke with joyous salutation to its new environment.  It was more difficult than I expected to find unbleached bread flour at the local Super Maxi in Quito so I offered mi Madre some barley flour and whole oats.  This seemed to keep her happy until I arrived in Banos where I was to find a whole array of baking supplies, including plantain and blue corn flour.   With a little research and some basic Spanish, I have high hopes that my starter will be put to good use!