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Catching Wild Sourdough

 
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I love sourdough baking. It's the most relaxing yeast I've ever encountered. It is forgiving and willing to adjust itself to a person's needs.

The best thing about sourdough, is that the yeast is free. Wild yeast lives all around us. We simply need to provide it with a friendly environment, and it's willing to dive right in. This is what a starter is. A symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The bacteria makes the sour taste in sourdough, and it also helps break down the sugars in the grain so that it's easier for the yeast (and human) to digest. The yeast makes the bubbles which make the bread rise.

It's been almost a year since I last baked, so I decided to catch a new starter. It took about a week, but it's cold in the house right now, and it's usually active much sooner. Tested it today by baking bread, and it tastes yummy. A bit young still (not so much rise to it as I like), so I'll keep it out on the counter and feed it for a few more days before hibernating it in the fridge.



Here's a bit I wrote about catching a starter on my blog. I asked and gave myself permission to copy it here.

RYE SOURDOUGH STARTER RECIPE

1 and 1/2 cups rye flower
1 pinch commercial bread yeast (optional, but helps a lot)
a few drops of milk (optional, but helps a lot)
sour milk is best, but not so easy to come by these days given how processed store bought milk is - it just goes lumpy and doesn't sour like milk use to. But any milk works fine.
Water

In a medium bowl combine the flour, yeast, milk and enough water in the bowl to make a thick pancake batter. Mix really well. cover with a clean cotton towel or cotton pudding cloth and place in a warm part of the kitchen. Leave there for three days. It should be bubbly by the third day and ready to make the sponge.

If it shows no signs of being bubbly, you can try the sponge step, or just add a couple of Tbs of water and flour, mix vigorously, cover with a towel and leave for three more days.

When you are not using your starter, keep it in an airtight container in the fridge. When you use the starter, keep back a couple of tablespoons and feed it with half a cup rye and half a cup water. Cover with a towel, and leave sit overnight or, during the day for 4 hours. A house is normally warmer and has more activity during the day so it doesn't take anywhere near as long for the starter to refresh.

However, be sure to leave a plate under the starter in case you are away too long and it overflows. It drys as hard as concrete and is a real *ahem* to clean off countertops!



These days I catch my starter differently. Sure, the old way works, but it's so much more bother than it needs to be. I put it down to the human love of ritual. We seem to enjoy formalizing the simplest tasks in life.

What I do now is to take about two tablespoons or handfuls of flour, usually rye, and mix some water with it to make a thin paste. Each day, I mix in some flour and splash of water to keep the texture. If the mixture has separated over night, then I add less water, if it's too stiff, then I add more water. After two or three days, it starts to bubble and smell yeasty. It takes about a week to be ready for bread baking.

That's it. No hydration tables, no measuring scales or cups or anything. Just flour and water. This is the way people have been catching yeast for thousands of years, and it still works.

Of course, if you like the ritual, then by all means, get out your scale and hydration tables. They have their uses (and personally I love them to bits), but for everyday baking, sourdough doesn't need to be fussy.
 
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I started a sourdough a few months ago, really easily. I had brought some live apple cider vinegar from the US and had added some of it to some apple juice a week earlier, so the juice smelled like hard cider and vinegar. So I just mixed up some wheat dough and threw some of that half-done cider in it, and it rose and made a tasty sourdough bread within hours.

Back in the days when I used commercial yeast, sometimes the dough would get left too long and go sour, and I would think "No problem, that's sourdough!" It would taste nice, but gave me heartburn, and I'm a person who really never gets heartburn. My current sourdough never gives me heartburn. It gives me a healthy satisfied feeling.

It seemed hard to keep it going without refrigeration, since I don't get around to making bread every day. But it works out okay most times. I've taken to leaving a very small bit of dough for the next starter, and that seems to work better than a more obvious amount. Like, I keep a tablespoon or two of dough as a starter, leave it unrefrigerated (no choice there) and then a few days later make a new batch of dough with it, and it seems to make the new dough rise in a couple/few hours, no problem. How much dough? Um, I dunno, maybe a couple to five pounds worth?

The sourness and rising ability vary, depending on how long I leave it in a batter condition (sponge?) or how long in a stiff dough condition, or maybe something else, like I think I saw you somewhere posted that more salt or dryer dough make it get sourer faster. (Both were counter intuitive to me, but I think turn out to be right)
 
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For those who do not want to try 'catching' a starter, here is an opportunity to get an heirloom sourdough starter for the price of a couple postage stamps:

Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter

This starter came across the Oregon Trail in 1847, and has been kept alive ever since.

 
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Here's a bit I wrote about catching a starter on my blog. I asked and gave myself permission to copy it here.

Thank goodness that you gave yourself permission. Would have been an exhausting conversation otherwise.
 
r ranson
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:

Here's a bit I wrote about catching a starter on my blog. I asked and gave myself permission to copy it here.

Thank goodness that you gave yourself permission. Would have been an exhausting conversation otherwise.



It's important to respect intellectual property... even when it's your own.

Of course, some days conversations with myself don't always go this easy.


I'm really thrilled with this latest batch of sourdough. I don't normally catch a starter in the winter, as yeast is supposedly more dormant this time of year. I suspect that the yeast that is active now, thrives at lower temperatures than the modern yeast. My starter is very lively and the bread is rising much better than in years past. I'm very pleased.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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The first time I caught starter was in Stewart on the north coast of B.C. (at the bottom of the Alaska Panhandle), in the winter. I think I got my info from a homesteading book At Home in the Woods, by Vena and Bradford Angier. and they didn't seem to have any caveat about not catching it in the winter, that I can remember. The house needs to be a certain temp, for sure, but I didn't have any problem at that place. They (the Angiers) were up northeast B.C. at Hudson Hope. I just left the covered bowl to bubble away for a few days and made bread, and kept the starter going for a few weeks while I looked after a place. Later I caught starter in the exact same way when I had my own cabin on Haida Gwaii.

I was wondering if a person would catch different yeasts if he had a bowl going with rye, one with oats, one with rice, one with wheat, etc. ? What if a person combined them after they were bubbling? Or after each made some bread?
 
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My starter protocol has been similar - 2:1 water to flour by volume. Mix it up and wait 'til it foams, then feed it in the same proportions. No need to get fussy about it (except don't use city tap water because the chlorine will set your big way back).

I made our daily bread this way for a year or more, but then partner decided he wanted to cut back on grains, and...

I miss it a little. You don't get the same flavors out of jarred yeast, no lactobacillus to add depth and complexity. Keeping a starter alive for just the occasional bread I make for myself is more bother than I'm up for.
 
r ranson
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In the summer, and especially near fruit harvest time, the air is usually full of more yeast than other times of year. At least that was how it use to be. Now it's less so because of some of the widely used chemicals just prior to harvest... but that's not an issue in a permaculture friendly household.

The wild yeast around us chances throughout the year. Different yeast thrives in different conditions, so as the seasons change, so too do the dominant yeast in the home.


One thing to consider about Sourdough is that it helps to improve the digestibility of grain. I've noticed that many (perhaps most) people who have trouble with grains and breads, have very few if any symptoms when eating sourdough. It's the main way our ancestors ate wheat (for those of us from parts of the world that had wheat as a staple crop). Our ancestors were pretty clever finding a way to cook wheat that is easy to digest and delicious.
 
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I have caught wild yeast once (using apples and fruit from my yard), and managed to keep it alive only enough to make a loaf of bread. Every time I do sourdough starter (like this wild levain), it separates into hooch nearly immediately and never gets all bubbly and lively. I live in a temperate place, it's not flaming hot here (it is about 75F in the middle of the day right now); today I have injera dough fermenting, been a few days, and it's the same thing, never fluffy and bubbly, just immediately a deep layer of hooch. I I love to bake but I've basically given up on sourdough-- if anyone has any suggestions I'd love to hear. Am I doing something wrong?
 
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I prefer a "yeast" dominant starter. So I start with grains strait from the field. Yeast is most abundant on fruit and grain skins. Here in Africa I put a handful of sorghum grains from this year's harvest in the flour and water mixture. It's much the same as cultivating a yeast for wild brewing. I just make sure I start with a grain for a yeast strain that will work best for bread. In other countries I have used an obliging wheat field or wild grass seeds for starter.

To keep the starter yeast-dominant you have to use it very freaquently, like every other day. It seems to me that yeast reproduces faster than bacteria, so if you keep using--or at least multiplying--the dough frequently the yeast stays ahead of the bacteria. I have succeeded in getting a very yeasty tasting bread with no sour flavor at all. It's what the French call "levain" and many bakeries still make "pain au levain" in France. Even some of them taste a little sour though.

If my starter starts smelling a little 'sour' when I haven't used it in a few days then I make pancakes out of it. Just mix the flour/water part of the pancakes first and remove some of it for starter before adding the other ingredients. Then instead of baking powder, just add baking soda. It reacts with the acid wonderfully for magically light pancakes! And a flavor you have to taste to believe.

If I don't feel like baking, then I just mix up dough in the evening and let it rise in the fridge. In the morning I shape english muffins and cook them in a skillet. Eat with butter!!
 
Tereza Okava
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I thought i'd update here- I caught a starter last week and managed to keep it alive. It is temperate here, not too hot, maybe 75-80 max daytime down to 38 at night.
The starter initially did its usual thing- hooch immediately. So I poked around and found a suggestion to make a MUCH thicker starter, did that (maybe twice the volume of flour as water) and it managed to actually rise like a sourdough. I have made rolls, which were AMAZING, tonight I'm doing cornbread, and this weekend we have real sourdough on the docket.
 
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I prefer my Finnish style rye sourdough starter. Usually grating an apple in the starter encourages the right kinds of "yeastie beasties" to take up residence.

I've never had a real problem with the "hooch" on top. I pour it off, and stir in new flour and water for a few days, and let it sit on my counter, and it seems to recover sufficiently to make a decent loaf again. Finnish style sourdough doesn't have a lot of lift, though, so my opinions may not be valid, if you're after a more light, fluffy texture.

(edit: my current sourdough starter is pushing 6 years old by now. I think if I look hard enough, I have a backup tucked away at the bottom of the deep freezer.)
 
Tereza Okava
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does the apple make it vinegary? Is it just a tad or the whole thing? I`m intrigued!!

I`ve never had anyone to ask, so I'm going to take advantage- so if it makes hooch and doesn't bubble, that's okay? This is the first batch that I can actually see bubbling, otherwise they just immediately separate.
 
Penny Oakenleaf
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Tereza Okava wrote:does the apple make it vinegary? Is it just a tad or the whole thing? I`m intrigued!!

I`ve never had anyone to ask, so I'm going to take advantage- so if it makes hooch and doesn't bubble, that's okay? This is the first batch that I can actually see bubbling, otherwise they just immediately separate.



Responding a bit backwards, so don't get confused like I do... The "hooch" on top only occurs for me when I've forgotten to feed the starter for a while, and the yeasts run out of food. It can usually be resuscitated from there by feeding it in small increments and keeping at room temperature over a couple of days.

Then about the apple. It's only used the first time you make your starter, if at all. You don't even necessarily need the whole apple. In the future, you can just add rye, and water, and keep perpetuating it. The sourdough I'm used to is rich, a little tart, but not unpleasant, and the crust has an absolutely addicting nutty quality to it that results in fights over bread heels at the table. I am also one of those strange people who will treat toasted dark rye flour (dry pan, stir continuously until it's dark and aromatic) as a topping for baked turnips with butter, salt, and freshly ground pepper. It's a recipe that I learned from my dad. I've heard it's based on archaeological finds from iron or bronze age Scandinavia, but I haven't actually ever seen a source, so I'm inclined to file it under "Daddy Oakenleaf's Tall Tales™". It is awfully tasty, though!
 
Tereza Okava
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ooh, i like that Tall Tales Recipe of Yore....  toasted rye flour reminds me of toasted barley, which makes the best drink ever, so it stands to reason that would make a fabulous topping for things. Hm. Now I`m going to have to make something with rye....
thanks, i am filing away ideas for when this starter kicks the bucket. so far we`re doing okay, but it is almost inevitable....
 
Penny Oakenleaf
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Tereza Okava wrote:ooh, i like that Tall Tales Recipe of Yore....  toasted rye flour reminds me of toasted barley, which makes the best drink ever, so it stands to reason that would make a fabulous topping for things. Hm. Now I`m going to have to make something with rye....
thanks, i am filing away ideas for when this starter kicks the bucket. so far we`re doing okay, but it is almost inevitable....



Barley may slide a bit off topic, BUT, toasted barley reminds me of Korean sikhye (rice and barley drink). I'm absolutely addicted to the stuff. I've heard many Koreans drink it to help wean their babies, so I've convinced myself it's the only "sugary" beverage I'm allowed, because I'm trying to wean an almost 2 year old who is teething on me. Ouch.
 
Tereza Okava
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i am a big fan of the korean roasted grain drinks!! i`m more of a fan of the corn or barley water teas (https://mykoreankitchen.com/korean-barley-tea-boricha/ ) but if I recall correctly, when you`re weaning a teether you`re allowed whatever gets you through the day. Yikes!
 
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