Just so you know: I decided to try making a sourdough starter BEFORE I learned it was a popular COVID-19 stay@home activity. It was an intuitive thing.
I’d also bought yeast. JUST BEFORE the whole Covid thing started. But I didn’t use the yeast. I made my own sourdough starter. From scratch. Not a grain of packaged yeast used. The container remains unopened.
MAKING THE SOURDOUGH STARTER
Googled it. Found a fancy page with giant, data-mongering images and lots of words, most of which I did not read. Choosing instead to go straight to the ingredients and proportions, and immediately started making a sourdough starter – sort of following the directions of a random Google-delivered page. WTF?
I have a digital scale, so weighing the ingredients as per the Googled recipe’s specifications was actually possible, yet…
…WHAT A WASTE!
I followed the directions delivered on the random Google-search-results page that said to throw out half the starter every time you feed it, but then it hit me! WHAT A FREAKING WASTE!
I think it was day-3 when this monologue, which is basically a bunch of rhetorical questions, started chasing its tail around my brain:
WTF!? Why am I throwing out this starter? Why am I throwing out half the starter every time I feed it? This does not make sense. This is stupidly wasteful. Why? What will happen if I don’t throw it out? Will it collapse? Will it kill the starter? Will it rise up and overflow and keep bubbling and rising and flow over the top of my fridge and fill my kitchen? …and flow and bubble, and bubble and flow, and flow and flow, and bubble and bubble, and bubble and flow till it pushes out of my apartment onto the balcony and a huge bubbling mass of wild yeasted sourdough starter is set to overtake the world because I DID NOT THROW OUT HALF THE STARTER BEFORE I FED IT? Give me a break.
But maybe that’s not such a bad idea, eh? …that a bunch of randomly collected wild yeast could teach people to stop throwing out half their resources, and bubble and flow and overtake the world…
Then I remembered the little fermentation booklet I’d bought at the Anarchist book fair, and the monologue changed:
To hell with the random chick on the internet who knows how to get her page high in the google search results, and yet apparently has no concept of food wastage and world hunger. I’m going for the solid knowledge of the printed word! …and about that undiscarded wild yeast overtaking the world, check out Sandor’s sub-title: A DO-IT YOURSELF GUIDE TO CULTURAL MANIPULATION!? Maybe we’re onto something here!
…so I cracked open Sandor’s booklet, and found the pages on sourdough starter and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, NADA about throwing out the starter every time you feed it.
Here’s the anarchist version of sourdough starter. This is one where you do not throw away half your cultural resources every time you feed it! You keep those resources. They are valuable!
He suggests a quart size jar and I agree. It’s what you need. For those of you too young to know it, or too old to remember a quart is little larger than a litre. Pictured is a 1-kilo peanut butter jar, with straight sides – very necessary for scraping – with a rubber spatula – the starter down the sides of the jar, back to the bottom where it can hang out with the rest of its culture! No social distancing necessary for wild yeast! If you don’t scrape it back down the sides of the jar it sort of dries out and gets all gunky, and you end up with lumps of gunk in your starter.
- Mix in the jar 2 cups of warm – not hot, not cold water. A good way to test water’s temp is to trickle a little over the inside of your wrist. Add to that 4 T honey and 1 cup flour. Stir vigorously. If you have a lid that fits, you can shake it. Take the lid off and cover it with a loosely woven kitchen cloth. You want the air to access it, but not any random insects who happen to stop by to check out the cultural happening!
- Put your covered jar of batter in a warm place – like the top of your refrigerator – and wait. While you’re waiting, the mixture will attract wild yeast living in the air around it.
- Everyday you need to “…visit your batter and stir it vigorously”. This is not a time to put the lid on and shake, this is a time to agitate it vigorously with a spoon or fork. This agitation exposes it to the wild yeast that will transform it into a bubbling mass! If there’s a little skin on the surface of the starter, mix it in and stir so vigorously that it disappears. Really that’s how vigorously you need to stir the starter everyday. If it wasn’t such a pain to wash, I’d use my electric mixer on the lowest speed. But the stirring gives my arms a bit of workout so it’s a win-win.
“After some days you will notice tiny bubbles releasing at the surface of the batter. This is how you can tell the yeast is active…the number of days it will take for yeast to colonize your batter will depend on environmental factors. Every eco-system has its own unique yeast populations…if you do not find bubbles forming after 3 or 4 days try to find a warmer spot. Or add a pinch of packaged yeast.” Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation
- When the bubbles start appearing, you start feeding the starter. Everyday you add about 1/4 cup of flour, and about half as much warm water. Some days you will need to add more water, less flour – you want the starter to retain its essentially liquid form, yet at the same time acquire a thicker, denser, yet more bubbly, consistency. You can also use natural fruit juices and kombucha as the add-in liquid. The day I added left-over cooked red lentils with a little kombucha, my sourdough starter really took off. I also used a variety of flours, yet found the freshest rye flour produced the best results. And *they* say fresh flour is the best for making a sourdough starter.
- You know your starter is ready when it floats. Yes. Get a small glass of water and toss a teaspoon of starter into the water. If it floats, your starter is ready to bake bread. if it sinks, you must continue waiting.
“You can add any kind of flour, or leftover cooked grains, or rolled oats, or whole millet, or other grains soaked in water overnight. You are feeding the sourdough. The batter will get thicker and start to rise, or hold some of the gas the yeast releases, but you want it to remain essentially liquid in form.” Sandor Ellix Katz, Wild Fermentation, A do-it Yourself Guide to Cultural Manipulation