Sourdough Pancakes with Oregon Wild Huckleberries

Grandma's Secret Recipe: Sourdough

Blueberry Pancakes
For years my grandmother Monica would make sourdough pancakes with blueberries or, more often, with wild Oregon huckleberries.  She had a berry bush in the yard in Coos Bay and we grandkids would get up early and pick (and eat) some berries for the pancakes. What I didn’t realize until I was an adult was that she had prepared for the pancakes the night ahead.

A couple years after college I was visiting my grandmother when she gave me some of her sourdough starter and the recipe for her pancakes.  The night before she removed a jar of started from the refrigerator and added that to a bowl with 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of flour.  In the morning she saved 1 cup of starter in her jar and then used the rest to make the pancakes.

She had received her sourdough starter from a family friend who had had it going since the early 1960s.  I had just bought a house and the starter went into the refrigerator in the new place as a housewarming gift. I kept the starter going for years after that and was even able to return some of it her on the occasion when she forgot to save out a cup after making pancakes. Unfortunately, in the 2000s our refrigerator died one hot summer and the starter turned blackish gray. I should have fed it but instead ended up tossing it (along with most of the contents of the fridge).

Restarting the Starter

A couple weeks ago my friend Molly gave me some of her sourdough starter. She’s a big fan of the King Arthur’s Flour website for sourdoughbaking tips and had been posting her recent baking adventures.  I figured it was time to get back into baking with sourdough. Also I had a secret goal: I had recently picked a lot of fresh blueberries and wanted to make my grandmother’s sourdough pancakes.

When I got the starter from Molly, however, I had a slightly embarrassing question. I had read an article in the Oregonian about what to do with your sourdough discard.  All of my recipes came from my grandmother and she never mentioned anything about a discard.  So I had to admit, aside from the alcohol that forms on the top of the starter, I had never discarded anything. What is the discard?

Molly was nice enough to explain that most recipes called for creating large amount of starter, and then to use only a portion of that in the baking and to discard the rest.  It suddenly clicked for me: My grandmother’s sourdough pancake recipe was the discard recipe.  She used the sourdough for flavoring and not so much for a rise.

Handling Sourdough

My grandmother had some special rules for sourdough that I’m not sure about:

1)      Use milk for the starter. I’ve done it both ways, with milk and with water. Both ways work.

2)      Don’t let the starter touch metal. Use porcelain or glass bowls, use a wooden spoon for mixing and put a piece of Saran Wrap under between the metal lid and the glass jar for storing the starter.

Thanks to Molly for the insight and to my grandmother Monica for all the times she served up pancakes. Here’s my grandmother’s recipe for sourdough pancakes based on the discard.  Make sure you add lots of fresh blueberries or, if you’re lucky enough, Oregon wild huckleberries.

Recipe for Sourdough Pancakes (with berries)

The night before, put the starter into a porcelain bowl with 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of milk. Stir to mix.

In the morning be sure to remove save 1 cup of starter back into the refrigerator.

To the rest add:

  •           1 egg
  •           2 tablespoons of neutral oil like canola
  •           2 tablespoons of sugar
  •           1 teaspoon of baking soda
  •           1 teaspoon of salt (can be less)

Mix well and then cook on the griddle over medium-high heat.  Add berries before flipping the pancakes. Serve immediately with butter and syrup.

This recipe makes about 8 pancakes. If you want to make more, just double everything in the recipe, including the flour and milk in the overnight bowl.  Just remember to always save 1 cup of starter before adding eggs, etc.



Retrospective on the Covid-19 Coronavirus outbreak, March 2020

We are now heading toward the back of the curve for the COVID-19 outbreak.  These are my notes thinking about how to deal with the virus based on what I've read.

We know that without preventions, the R0 of COVID-19 is about 3.  Unchecked, this will lead to exponential infection.  More on R0 here.

Models say that 65%+ of a population need be infected before herd immunity starts to work. With a mortality rate of about 1%, this means a significant number of deaths before herd immunity starts to work.

There is no vaccination and because this is a novel virus, no one has had the disease before and no one has past immunity. This means there’s no medical way to control the spread of the disease. So, prevention and containment are the best tools we have.


Using both hygiene and physical barriers can reduce the R0 from 3 to about .6.  At this rate the infection will be reduced to a manageable level.

Hygiene protocols

  • Wash hands
  • Use sanitizer when soap not available
  • Cover your cough (mask is best)
  • Clean heavy-touch surfaces

Physical barriers

  • Quarantine
  • Social distance - 6 to 10 ft
  • Wear masks
  • Use plastic barriers
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to large groups (10+) in closed areas


A note on Political barriers - such as borders of states or countries. These are not effective methods to prevention and should not be implemented.  If one person can cross the border, then the infection can cross the border.

It's a pandemic - which means the infection has spread throughtout the world.  Containment can happen only after a reduction in the number of active cases.  So, we need these precautions as ongoing activities until there is a vaccine for COVID-19:

  • Check for symptoms (fever + cough) in people who may have been exposed
  • Test randomly and often in mobile populations
  • Implement contact tracing. Ban large gatherings since these make contact tracing impossible.
  • Continue quarantine for more vulnerable individuals
  • Apply highest cost-benefit social distancing measures
  • Explore immunity after recovery: serologic testing for antibodies 
This author describes these activities as "The Dance." During the dance there will be a number of challenges.  Here are the challenges I see:

Health Challenges

  • Invisible carriers: Asymptomatic carriers (25%?) & pre-symptomatic carriers
  • Long incubation period: 4-14 days
  • We live in a highly mobile world that affords lots of opportunity for the virus.

Information Challenges

  • Uncertainty - this is a new situation so a lot is unknown.
  • Lack of studies
  • Hard to compare with existing viruses (eg: SARS)
  • Misinformation

Challenges specific to the United States

  • Healthcare tied to employment
  • Years of erosion in the social support nets
  • Political climate
    • Distrust in government
    • Poor leadership at the national level
    • Politicians using the pandemic to their political objectives
  • Without social safety nets, the pandemic turns into a health vs economy situation, which is wrong.
  • Geographic mobility. It's possible to travel across the US without any checkpoints or borders. Also, except for Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and some other territories, not a lot of pinch points in terms of physical location