Five minutes with… Elaine Boddy

Each month we call up a Guild member and ask them what’s occurring. This month, Elaine Boddy
1) You're world-famous now for your role in the world of baking, and in particular sourdough bread. How did you happen to travel along this specific path?
In late 2013 I had recently lost a very close friend, chosen to close my previous business, and was at home full time looking after my family; I decided to teach myself to make my favourite foods from scratch, at the same time starting a food blog ‘foodbod’ to chart and log my dishes and my learning. What I had not expected was to become part of a wonderful new community; blog world is a lovely, supportive, sharing world, where you make virtual friends all over the globe, sharing and learning from one another. 

My food is, vegetarian, healthy, tasty food with lots of Middle Eastern influences, as well as other cuisines, using lots of spices and fresh vegetables and grains, and appealed to lots of other people cooking in their homes, and the discussion and inspiration was daily.

One of our blog family, Celia, in Australia, had started baking sourdough using her starter, Priscilla. She decided to dry out some of her starter and send it round the world to her blog friends, including a lovely lady in London called Selma, who I was friends with online and in person after ‘meeting’ on our blogs. Selma named her starter Twinkle and promptly mastered sourdough baking – she was an amazing cook and baker. Selma dried some of her Twinkle and sent her with full instructions to many of her blog friends, including me. 

I had mastered baking bread with commercial dried yeast, but sourdough was totally new to me. I had never heard of it before the ladies had started to blog about it, let alone eaten it, so I had no idea about it at all. I will be honest, I was scared!!! I did not know anything about making sourdough, so I bombarded Selma with questions which she happily answered (the sourdough community is a passionate, sharing bunch), and then I went for it…and it worked like a dream. 

It was like MAGIC! I revived the starter, and baked what I considered to be a beautiful perfect loaf, I was so proud it, and I promptly ate half of it in one go right there and then, it was so good! 

My son has always been a bread fanatic and he loved it too, and from then on requested sourdough on a regular basis, I therefore got to the point where I needed sourdough available for his breakfast and school lunch every day. I did what everyone does and read lots of information, played with various methods, baked a few frisbees and a few bricks, and learned constantly. I made several different starters during this time and eventually mixed them all together with my original starter and created a single mega starter: my Star.

Eventually from everything I had seen and read and tried, I settled on my own process that ensured that I could produce 3-4 consistent successful loaves week in week out.

So many sourdough methods, and books, and instructions render sourdough seemingly inaccessible or scary or impossible to make for new would-be bakers, but I knew that it did not have to be that way. I had a process that was simple, straightforward, fits in with life, does not dominate the household, does not dictate your life, and can be made by everyone. At the same time Star just got, and gets, stronger and stronger, she almost defies belief.

So in 2018 I decided to share what was now my master recipe, my process and all of my hints and tips on a freely accessible website. I just wanted to share what I do in my home kitchen in the hope it might be useful for someone else, and also to demystify sourdough and undo the over complicated reputation it has gained. At the same time I started selling my dried starter to help people on their journey. 

I launched the site on 26 July 2018. The first order came on the same day from a lady in Texas, the second came the next day from Indonesia! I was amazed; it was not what I had expected at all. My starter has now travelled to every corner of the globe and my recipe is being used everywhere you can think of. I teach courses in my home kitchen and help people daily via social media. I receive messages hourly from people thanking me for simplifying sourdough and helping them to bake successful loaves; they send me photos of their lovely loaves and share their excitement at the simplicity of the process. 

People around the world are now enjoying their own freshly baked, healthy, tasty sourdough in their homes on a regular basis using my process, it is amazing. And I love it. I love the photos of their creations and seeing videos of their starters, and hearing how happy they are. 

It’s truly amazing, and nothing I ever ever expected.

2) Obviously sourdough has become an international obsession since the pandemic began. Can you identify why, in your opinion?
I think there are a few factors; I think people suddenly realised they had time to do things they’d always wanted to do, then they shared their excitement and other people jumped on board and the interest grew. Add in the shortage of commercial yeast that occurred and people wanted a way to make their own. And then of course, social media played a huge part as people shared what they were doing and creating and it all snowballed.

There’s also the fact that people found solace in making starters and watching them grow, and then in creating their doughs and loaves. The whole process has proved to be a great distraction for many, and a great nurturing and sanity saving gift for others. I’ve had messages from so many people thanking me from helping them through lockdown.

It’s also brought people together. I’ve seen people setting up local baking groups, and family WhatsApp sourdough groups, it’s been a really positive thing in such an uncertain time.

3) I know you have a book coming out shortly. What can you tell us about that?
Firstly, I’m still amazed it’s even happening! Even though I’ve worked so hard on it for so many months, I think until I hold it in my hands it will remain unbelievable.

I was very lucky that last autumn the publisher contacted me out of the blue with an offer. They’d read everything I have online and stalked my social media platforms and proposed the book to me. And now it’s on its way, roll on autumn.

The book will enable anyone brand new to sourdough to be able to start from scratch, to make a starter and then their own loaves. It will then enable them, and any more experienced bakers, to be able to make many and various sourdough loaves and creations using whole grain and ancient grain flours.

It covers every level and includes every hint and tip I could fit onto the pages.

I truly hope people like it.

I’m also so happy with the photos and graphics. I worked with a local food photographer, that the publishers approved (as they are in the US); we shot everything in my home which was a great learning curve, and he got exactly how I wanted the photos to be, and I think he’s done a brilliant job. 

4) How has your sourdough community, nurtured on your Facebook page, influenced your work and your life?
My community has been amazing. My Facebook group is like an extended family, and my followers on Instagram are a great source of daily joy. They’ve all influenced my work as they have all helped me to learn and to challenge myself; every single one of the hundreds of questions that have been posed to me has taught me something, and dealing with sourdough bakers all over the world has taught me huge amounts about flours and environments, as well as personalities. 

Helping so many new sourdough bakers has shown me exactly what people want to know, what they worry about, and the key facts they need at their finger tips. And then as they move on, I know the next steps they want to take. The knowledge I’ve gained is priceless and puts me in a position to be able to help anyone in the world that needs it.

It’s influenced my life in that it’s become such a big part of it, a portion of my day every single day is dedicated to my community. I have to manage my days so that I don’t spend my entire time online, which I think is also a good learning curve; I answer every single question, message, email, comment that comes my way, but there comes a time every day when devices are switched off and my family comes first. I think work life balance is very important and when you work for yourself, and from home, it’s very easy to never switch off, so I make sure that I do, physically if not mentally anyway..!

5) What's next for you?
Who knows? Right now, it’s about the book coming out and hoping it’s received well. From there I’d love to write more, and at some point I’d like to resume my course, but that all depends on the current restrictions, but mostly I just want to keep helping people, if I can make people happy, my work is done. 

6) How long have you been a member of the Guild, and what impact has your membership had on your career, if any?
I have been a member of the Guild for a mere 1 and a half months and it’s already been very interesting. The Facebook group is a great place to share knowledge and ideas, and there is obviously a vast knowledge amongst this fabulous group of people. I’ve already made great new connections, not least you, lovely Kristen, and look forward to learning and sharing more in the group. I’m in amazing company that I never expected to be in!

Elaine would like to share a link to her sourdough page, sharing stories of how sourdough saved so many people's sanity during the lockdown. Please feel free to pop over and share your own stories: