Photography: Sourdough slice/Wiki Commons

There’s no such thing as a carb-free diet in the West.

Bread. It soaks up cioppino and chili. It cradles meat and vegetables. Dressed up with custard and sauce, it makes an excellent pudding. Bread in its many incarnations might be the ultimate universal staple. It’s certainly integral to the way we eat in the West.

Tortillas, both corn and flour, have long sustained the people of Texas and the Southwest. In A Log of the Texas-California Cattle Trail, 1854, a cowboy at a New Mexico camp wrote of his evening meal consisting of a flour tortilla and a piece of bacon.

Photography: Hopi Indian woman mixing corn flour for piki in the village of Mishongnovi, Arizona, ca.1901

What is Navajo country without fry bread at a roadside stand or powwow? Or New Mexico without piki, the Hopi blue corn analog to tortillas served in gossamer sheets or in rolls after cooking on a pinyon-fired piki stone? Or the Southwest without sopaipillas to punctuate a meal with a scattershot of confectioner’s sugar dusting the fried dough pillows?

Farther west, what would San Francisco be without its famed sourdough? Popularized by French bakers during the California Gold Rush, the crusty white bread — characterized by the sourness imparted by the one-two punch of lactobacillus bacteria and yeast — is so ingrained in local culture that the San Francisco 49ers football team’s mascot is named Sourdough Sam. Even the bacteria used for the bread bears the city’s name: Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis. As with other good breads, sourdough’s fame has spread throughout the West. Witness Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, Texas. The memorable bread pudding there? That flavor bomb consists of Jack Daniel’s whiskey sauce and pecans on a custardy bed of sourdough bread.


Perini Ranch Steakhouse Bread Pudding With Whiskey Sauce

From the October 2017 Taste of the West issue.

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