Who ever thought a bread story would have so much depth? We’re sharing a 70 year old (and counting) story with you today about BREAD. Yes. Bread.
Thomas Cox, owner of Table and Thyme, was born and raised in Alabama but so much of his heart is still in a small interstate and college town between Nashville and Knoxville, named Cookeville.
When his initial journey of coaching college football put his family in Cookeville, they quickly made a home there. After meeting some of the most amazing people on the planet and having 3 kids there, it is still HOME to them.
Along every journey you meet special people, and in the midst of this adventure Thomas and his wife, Jackie, were blessed to meet Donnie and Sarah (Pronounced SAY-RA) Davidson. He explains them as the couple in town in their upper 60’s that you hope to one day be like when you grow up. Salt of the earth. Give you the shirt off your back, but quickly put you in your place if you are not doing life biblically correct.
Donnie and Sarah are the parents of a great friend of Thomas’ named Matt. If you spend anytime with Matt, his wonderful wife Tiffany, and their 3 kids you will be introduced to “Gonnie and Say-Say’s” bread. When first introduced Thomas to it many years ago, Matt simply called it “Homemade Bread”.
Yes it is homemade bread. But, that term goes so deep and requires an explanation because the phrase “Homemade” simply isn’t adequate enough to describe it. So when Thomas asked Matt what makes it “Homemade”, he assumed Matt made it in a bread machine. Matt gave Thomas the most pretentious grin that most of us give when we know something that you don’t. Not Arrogant…but pretty close.
This is where the story of the “Bread Starter” came to life. A 2 day process to make a loaf…what?! 2 days. Thomas’ mind was blown.
A little puzzled and wanting more details, Thomas went to the source went to the source. In his words “‘Cause let’s face it, the generation before us are just better at telling a story.”
Thomas asked Donnie (Matt’s Dad) and he went into the origination story of how this bread starter came about.
So, before we get into that, you are probably asking yourself, what is bread starter.
Well, bread can be made in 2 ways.
With yeast – you buy it in a little packet in the store, add all your ingredients, flour, water, sugar and then you proceed from there. Hear us out, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. It is 10 times better than buying bread from the store.
With a “Starter” – Starter is made from a combination of yeast and bacteria growing inside a paste made of flour and water. It is a living organism, and like all living organisms in order to live…they must be fed. So in order to keep this “paste” alive you must feed it every 10 or so days with water, sugar and flour.
So what’s the difference in Sourdough Starter and Yeast ?
The difference is in how they are made. Regular bread is made using store bought yeast that reacts with gluten making the dough rise. Sourdough bread, on the other hand, is made with a “starter“. This starter is made from a combination of yeast and bacteria growing inside a paste made of flour and water.
All bread has flour, water and sugar. Some breads have more ingredients but the base of all breads are this. But what makes the bread become taller and rise? It’s the base. For some it is yeast, and some it is starter.
“It isn’t easy to make good bread with sourdough cultures,” writes Harold McGee in his encyclopedic tome of food science, On Food and Cooking, first published in 1984. This is for a couple reasons, he explains. One is the balance of bacteria and yeast. Because the bacteria grow faster than the yeast, there is far more bacteria in any given starter, which can inhibit yeast’s production of carbon dioxide, which helps bread to rise. In addition, because a sourdough starter is acidic, it can weaken the structure of bread dough, resulting in a dense loaf.
When Thomas moved from Cookeville to Birmingham in the fall of 2017 he went to see Donnie and Sarah. He sat with them for the better part of the afternoon and they walked him through the whole process of how to feed the starter and how to make the bread. They gave him old-fashioned typed up instructions and their phone number at the top of the page because they knew he would have questions.
For the last 2 years Thomas has been telling people the bread story. Explaining that what they are eating is made from a starter that is 26 years old…. And they look at him with this dumfounded look on their face. Since you have to add flour and water and such to the starter to make more starter and to keep it alive, if you run out of starter or do not feed it, it will die and you will not be able to make the sourdough you crave after the first time you eat it.
So from then until the time of this article is written December 2019, Thomas has fed this starter and made bread for hundreds of people. But, the story gets even better. When we sat down with Donnie and asked him the true origination of the starter, this is what he said!
“In 1987 when Matt was a kid, he came home and told me the bread he just ate at his Mrs. Pams house was the most amazing bread he had ever had.”
So, what does any respectable dad that takes pride in his cooking do…? He walked down to Mrs. Pam’s house and asked about this bread his son spoke so highly of. Mrs. Pam proceeds the tell Donnie about the Sourdough starter and explains the whole process. Takes a mason jar, (because everyone below the Mason Dixon has a surplus of them in their home) puts a cup of starter in it and gives him the instructions. When Donnie started doing the math, he told me he has had the starter for 32 years……WOW. That’s amazing.
Thomas wanted to dig a little deeper, so he asked Donnie if Mrs. Pam was still living and sure enough she was! Donnie called her and asked how long she had the starter, she then goes on to explain that she received it from her mother who made it as long as she remembered.
At the time we write this article, the exact date of the starters is unknown, but at this point it has reached over 70 years old in 2019.
Our starter has been passed down from generation to generation, one family to the next! We’re lucky and excited to continue sharing this made from scratch, delicious bread with you and yours.