Bernson's Corner: Sourdough king of Kentucky - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bernson's Corner: Sourdough king of Kentucky

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Louisville, KY -- (WDRB) -- Winter tends to bring out the best in the kitchen -- hearty soups and stews –better known as comfort food.

What Barry Bernson found comforting in Bernson's Corner -- is the stuff that truly great bakers are made of-- sourdough.

The log home tucked into a fold of the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky is actually "the kingdom of sourdough bread."

Clarence "Soc" Clay is the king.  The 75-year-old of Greenup County, who has put together what he says is the only comprehensive book of recipes for the bread made famous by those who braved the Alaska wilderness during the Gold Rush days more than a century ago. 

Is Soc Clay the Mad Trapper himself? "No," he says, "the Mad Trapper was a guy named Johnson who killed a couple of Mounted Police about 1930, I believe it was..."

Sourdough starts with a starter -- made with a small amount of old dough saved from a prior batch, and is sometimes called mother dough.  Properly fed, the wild yeasts and bacteria will last virtually forever.  This starter dates back to when?  "Nineteen-hundred, 1900.  And only four of us has owned it since 1900.  I've had it for 30 years.  It's a pretty potent starter, I'll tell ya.  You can't kill it!"

Clay says, "I was raised with a guy who came out of the Alaskan Gold Rush.

He knew what he was doing. But he had plenty of stories of how cold it was, and how you survived on sourdough."

Clay says real sourdough bread requires flour, water and salt, a wooden spoon, an earthenware container and a little violence he calls a "smack and flop" to knead the dough. "You want that dough to feel elastic, that's what they say.  Feel alive."

While the dough is rising, Soc kicks back by the fire to explain his connection with this kind of bread.  "Sourdough's a mysterious thing.  You picture an old, rough, rugged guy in the North -- half-starved -- and that's what they call a sourdough. So it is romantic and a creative style of baking that I think is just incredible."

It's not all about sourdough for Soc Clay.  He's made his living for more than half a century as a writer and photographer; his pictures on the covers of many magazines.  See, it's true that man does not live by bread alone."

After about 35 minutes at about 360 degrees, Soc Clay holds in his hands a little bit of bread heaven.  "Sourdough's rugged enough, tough enough -- even if they say 'you're a sourdough baker,' you're a macho guy.  Well, if you're a little muffin boy, you know..."

The word "companion" comes from "panem," the Latin word for bread.  And what could be more companionable than sitting down with a master of sourdough?   

"This is hearty stuff that's got some -- stick with you, you know?  You're gonna be a very, very popular person wherever you go with that bread," according to Clay.

From Fern Hollow in Greenup County Kentucky -- Barry Bernson, Fox41 News.

To check out some of the Mad Trapper's sourdough recipes, click here.

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