Gold rush towns and sourdough are historically linked. Sourdough was dominant during the California Gold Rush and then carried through Western Canada, the Territories, and Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. Between 1896 and 1899, the Klondike region saw an influx of approximately 100,000 people in search of gilded wealth. Miners, settlers, and those in search of gold carried their sourdough starters while they travelled north, careful to keep them from freezing. A sourdough starter consists of water and flour, is set to ferment, and constantly refreshed with water and flour. It sounds simple, but to maintain a quality starter is very difficult, and essential to the flavour of the final product. The starters were important because they ensured a steady food supply for the travellers; if their starters were lost or damaged, they could not simply buy yeast from a grocery store as we can today. In the evening, they would set up camp and use their starters to make bread, pancakes, buns, and the like. They would then feed their starter (with water and flour), and in the morning continue their journey to gold.
Sourdough is still a strong part of the culture in the Yukon and is one of the many indicators of the Klondike Gold Rush in the region today. Many bakeries and restaurants provide sourdough options, and to be called a ‘sourdough’ is to be recognized as someone who spends all four seasons in the Yukon.
Tracie Harris of Mom’s Sourdough Bakery is a devout contributor to the sourdough culture of the Yukon. For over 30 years, Tracie has operated an organic bakery about 2 km off the Klondike Highway, on Lake Laberge.
Her starter is about 95 years old; she has owned it for 55 years, and another family owned it for 40 years before her. She bakes her breads in a large wood-fired brick oven,
and also makes a great range of treats including cinnamon buns, butter tarts, and Yukon berry pies.
We picked up a loaf of sourdough and a butter tart. The butter tart, a Canadian icon itself, was one of the best we’ve come across, and the sourdough was immensely satisfying throughout our nights of camping in the Yukon.