‘Sourdough Culture’: Eric Pallant hosts book signing

Pallant’s first book explores history and methods of breadmaking across the globe


Evelyn Zavala

Professor Eric Pallant (far left) waits as students line up to get their books signed at GFC on Nov. 1.

Christine Scott Nelson, ’73, Endowed Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability Eric Pallant’s new book “Sourdough Culture: A History of Bread Making from Ancient to Modern Bakers,” brought a look into the history of sourdough bread as well as a guide for how to start.

On Monday Nov. 1 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Grounds for Change at the Henderson Campus Center, Pallant did a book signing for his newly-released book.

The event started with an explanation of what sourdough is while students received samples of Pallant’s homemade sourdough bread.

“Sourdough contains a collection of wild yeast and wild bacteria,” Pallant said. “We are surrounded by little microscopic organisms, most of which are harmless and a couple are viruses that have related to things that have ruined our lives for the past three years.”

After his explanation of sourdough, Pallant read an excerpt from his book which described his initial introduction to sourdough bread.

“If it weren’t for the gentle persistence of my wife I would avoid most social gatherings,” Pallant read. “I would have found an excuse not to attend the picnic hosted by Quimby Mamula, director of financial aid at Allegheny College. None of us knew that at the time that the bread we ate with lunch was baked from a sourdough starter that I would later find out was nearing its 100th birthday.”

Along with the opportunity to purchase a book at the discounted price of $23, students could also purchase sourdough starter for $5. The purchase of a starter entered the person into a raffle in which they could win a full sourdough loaf. Pallant explained that selling zip-lock bags of starters are a way to have insurance in the event that he loses his culture and needs a sample.

“I went away for six months and gave my starter to a neighbor and he threw it out after two months,” Pallant said. “I was horrified, which is why I gave these starters to everybody.”

Students came to the book signing for a variety of reasons relating to their interest in baking or for their loved ones.

Vice President of Allegheny Student Government Sophie Adams, ’22, shared why she was interested in attending the book signing.

“I came here to buy a book as a gift and also because I am excited to try the method described in the book,” Adams said. “I’ll definitely bake one when I am home for winter break. I want my bread to taste that good.”

Pallant explained the historical questions his book tackles about how sourdough bread making has evolved far from traditional practices.

“Why after 6,000 years have so many people given up on sourdough in favor of bread designed by engineers to exit a factory line with all the reliability and taste of a Model T?” Pallant said.

Rudra Schultz-Ray, ’23, explained his interest in reading Pallant’s book.

“I am really interested in baking so I thought I should show up and try to get some tips and experiences,” Schultz-Ray said. “I want to gain a further understanding of sourdough and from what I’ve heard the book is more about the history. I love history which made me want to learn more about sourdough’s history aside from the eating part.”

Pallant explained his intention of what kind of book he wanted to write.

“I refused to write a book that was an academic book,” Pallant said. “I only wanted to write a book that I would actually read. There is a penalty for being a professor in that nobody believed that a professor could write a book that would be readable.”

The winner of the raffle Blake Neiderlander, ’24, shared his main takeaways from the book signing.

“I think one of the things that really hit home was that it inspired me to keep on writing,” Neiderlander said. “The fact that his journey of writing was a nonlinear pathway and he had that challenge of always revising that journey. That was something that inspired the little writer in me that wants to come out to not let writing go.”

Pallant shared his intention of writing another book.

“I’m thinking the next book is going to be about where your bread comes from from cradle to grave and it’s going to start in Western Sahara,” Pallant said.

What does that have to do with bread? It’s because it is sitting on the world’s largest phosphorus mine and without it no food grows. It will be much more back to my environmental roots.”