Home Bread-Bakers v104.n003.15

Sourdough Starter Anxiety

"Kenneth McMurtrey" <kdlam@netdoor.com>
Tue, 6 Jan 2004 04:32:44 -0600
I suffered from sourdough starter anxiety. Late at night I would lay awake, 
tossing and turning worrying about the state of my starter which was 
sleeping in the fridge or bubbling on the counter. Could I reconstitute my 
starter if a natural calamity befell it?

A scientific experiment seemed in order. Many sourdough starter recipes may 
be found on the web. Some use grapes, some yogurt, and some potatoes. Cumin 
is a constituent of some starters. Some recipes recommend grinding organic 
grain on basalt stones all the while singing incantations to Ceres or other 
gods of the hearth and using spring waters collected from the Himalayas and 
transported via camel caravan across the silk road.

I selected six flours from my pantry and used bottled water from a 
mid-Mississippi aquifer. I mixed 30 grams of flour with 30 grams of water 
and allowed the mixture to sit at room temperature (a cool room temperature 
ranging from about 65 to 70 F).  The flours used were (1) Gold Medal 
Organic All Purpose flour, (2) Gold Medal Bread flour, and (3) Gold Medal 
Bleached All Purpose flour, (4) Hodgson Mill Rye flour, (5) Pillsbury rye 
flour, and (6) a whole-wheat flour I had purchased at a water mill in 
Champions, Nebraska.

I fed each of the nascent starters each day for the first week and then 
began to get a bit erratic. I generally doubled the amount of starter at 
each feeding, starting to dispose of about half after the third day. There 
was activity (bubbles) on second day in some of the mixtures. One of them, 
the Champion's Mill flour developed a mould and was dumped. It showed 
activity and the mould may have been a result of inattention on my part.

At the end of two weeks time all surviving mixtures were doubling their 
volume within an 8-hour period, which was my definition of a completely 
active starter. I have used each of them as leavening agent in loaves of 
bread. They all worked well and gave acceptable results. There were 
differences in the different loaves, but then each loaf of "sourdough" I 
make seems different. My old standby, Carl's Oregon Trail starter, is a bit 
more active than the experimental ones but the finished loaves were very 
much alike. Carl's starter has had more than a century and a half to 
practice raising bread so the difference in activity perhaps shouldn't be 

So I sleep peacefully now, knowing I can always make some more starter if 
it is needed. The satisfaction I got from my first loaf of bread from a 
starter I had made myself was akin in feeling to that of catching my first 
trout on a fly that I had tied myself. I released the rainbow back into the 
river but ate the bread.

Prosperous and Happy New Year to all.