kensington sourdough

You can get a sourdough starter in Toronto that's been around for 170 years

A sourdough starter that was born more than 170 years is now up for grabs in Toronto. Hailing from California, the person selling it as Kensington Sourdough says this starter dates back to California Gold Rush times.

Not only that, he claims it just plain makes great bread, as well as English muffins, bagels, pretzels or cinnamon buns. Although it dates back to the mid-19th century, the starter is supposed to be active, strong and versatile, as well as pretty foolproof.

Ben, who asked for his last name to be withheld, had been sharing and selling the starter locally to great acclaim, but only made it into a business in April 2020 when the pandemic first hit.

"At that time a few friends basically bullied me into making a website for customers," he tells blogTO. That became the site through which you can purchase the starter today, and orders started coming in from all over Canada.

According to the site, $7.99 gets you one packet of dried, active sourdough starter and written instructions for activating and maintaining the starter, "as well as some practical advice and recipe links that can put even a first time baker on a path towards making great bread."

The site also notes that the starter had been kept in a cool dark place for three years before it was revived and "roared back to life." It's been in relatively continuous use since 1850.

"I got the starter from a San Fran bakery now closed via someone from California," says Ben. 

"I am deliberately a bit vague on the origin story because I want people to use their imaginations a bit. But the bakery closed in the late 2000s and this was their starter."

It actually comes from legendary bakery Parisian in San Francisco (whose claim to fame was originating San Francisco sourdough) and survived the 1906 California earthquake. California sourdough has an excellent reputation and a history that dates back to gold miners in the California hills carrying crocks of starter from place to place.

Eighty reviews on the starter product page average out to five stars, with people saying it's a "beast," "vigorous and alive" and "crazy active," and that the bread it produces is "crunchy and crispy on the outside and chewy soft on the inside" and "beautiful, flavorful."

People also send Ben photos of their baking projects, and exchange tips and recipes on his social media (the Kensington Sourdough Instagram is entirely made up of submissions). But the question remains: Will this replicate the flavour of bread baked back in the Gold Rush?

"Of course the science suggests that over time and in a different location the starter changes," says Ben. "It seems there is still an imprint of the history, but it would evolve over time."

Lead photo by

Kensington Sourdough

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