As It Happens

Sourdough starter group overwhelmed with thousands of orders after viral TikTok

Mary Buckingham likes to keep up with a pioneer tradition from the 1800s. She mails people sourdough starters upon request. Bu, a viral TikTok video now has her overloaded with requests.

Mary Buckingham has been keeping up with a pioneer tradition of giving out sourdough starter

A rustic looking sourdough loaf
The group's starter recipe is based on one from the 1800s. (CBC / Chef Secrets: The Science of Cooking)

A group that mails out sourdough starters has been overwhelmed with requests after a TikTok about them went viral. 

Mary Buckingham of Greeley, Colo., is part of the 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Preservation Society that continues the old pioneer recipe by mailing out the kits, which are based on sourdough starters from the 1800s. 

People who are interested can send a self-addressed envelope to the group to receive a kit. 

Last month, TikTok user Susan Robison posted a video spotlighting the group, after she learned from a relative that the kits were available free at request. Ten days later, Buckingham was inundated with calls from her local post office.

"The post office gave me a call that morning and told me that there were three two-foot-long postal letter boxes full," Buckingham said. 

The group typically gets 30 to 60 requests per week, but it's now receiving thousands every few days. Despite the sudden interest, they are still trying to fulfil every request they can. 

A woman wearing a blue vest with glasses looks into a camera
Mary Buckingham couldn't believe how one TikTok could lead to thousands of requests for the sourdough starter. (Submitted by Mary Buckingham)

"We're now at 8,000 as of this week," Buckingham told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. "I can't say I'm angry, but I am tired. Just exhausted."

"My sister has been kind enough to help me, so that's been a huge help, or I'd be weeks behind ... We're just nonstop work — it's all day, every day, all the weekends."

The beginning of a trend

Buckingham and her group of volunteers started maintaining these free sourdough starters after meeting Carl Griffith, a sourdough enthusiast, on the '90s Internet Usenet group Usenet is, roughly speaking, an online bulletin board network that could be described as a precursor to message boards and even modern social media.

When Griffith died in 2000, the 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Preservation Society was formed to maintain his sourdough starter and to continue the tradition of mailing the kits out for free.

A ziplock bag containing sourdough starter
The starter recipe is based on one used by the pioneers. (Submitted by Mary Buckingham)

The process of creating the starters is multi-faceted, and can take a number of days to get the kits — consisting of various flours mixed with water — dry and ready to be mailed out.

Buckingham stands by the group's starter, but she said the abundance of requests means she has barely any time to bake bread. But, despite this, Buckingham hopes she can continue to honour the requests — even if that feels near impossible. 

"Usually when we've had press, it dies down after a few weeks and then we go back to our 30 to 60 a week, which is no big deal to handle," she said. "If this were just to keep going like this, we would have to change how we do things, because two people just cannot do this.

The group are still taking requests for their starters, and Buckingham has some advice for Canadians that might be interested. 

"Please don't send Canadian stamps or money. We can't use it. We have to have U.S. postage," Buckingham said.

Interview produced by Katie Geleff