When the discovery of gold near Coloma, California, in 1848 ignited a massive influx of prospectors to the area from other regions of the United States, as well as Europe, Asia, and Australia, many arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. Among the few prized possessions brought along for the journey were jars of sourdough starter — the mixture of fermented flour and water used to make bread without commercial yeast — that held the promise of a full belly. To thousands of hopeful (and hungry) miners who risked it all in pursuit of striking it rich, those jars of cultivated wild yeast represented a semblance of stability and a taste of home, even amid backbreaking work and an uncertain future.
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