84-year-old Ione Christensen of Whitehorse, Yukon, has had her starter for 60 years. She knows that it traveled with her grandfather in 1897.
Christensen is pleased by the attention her starter is receiving. “It’s a family pet, if you will.” Indeed, sourdough starters do require steady attention to be kept alive. Until fairly recently, they were crucial if anyone wanted fresh bread, which is why de Smedt described people in the past as “slaves to their sourdough,” needing to feed it every few hours. Modern yeast extraction has eliminated that need, but has paid the price in flavor.
Meanwhile, Christensen laughs at the fact that her starter’s fame might eclipse her own accomplishments. She was the first female mayor of Whitehorse in 1975, Commissioner of Yukon after that, a Canadian senator, and a recipient of the Order of Canada in 1994.