Early settlers to the West, especially those headed to Alaska, relied on sourdough to keep them going. Other types of bread required eggs & milk, but sourdough only needed flour and feeding to keep it alive along with a little heat. And supposedly the Alaskan miners slept with their sourdough starters at night to keep them warm in the cold northern climate.
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Being called a “sourdough” remains an honorific in Alaska. “The character-building experience of surviving Northern winters was a mark of pride among sourdoughs,” writes Susannah Dowds in Alaska Sourdough: Bread, Beards and Yeast.
Image Credit: University of Washington Digital Collection, Sourdough Hotel, Dexter, Alaska, ca. 1901. Photographer Hegg, Eric A., 1867-1948, Date circa 1901