Melissa Norris feeds some sourdough starter in her kitchen. On the plate are some of her sourdough pancakes. She likes to make up a large batch and store them in the fridge.
The author grinds her own flour at home and has used organic hard white wheat, hard red and spelt flour.
Melissa’s sourdough starter bubbles in a jar.
Rustic bread rests before taking a turn in the oven.
Freshly baked sourdough ready to eat.
Melissa says that sourdough pancakes are almost as good when you reheat them in a toaster oven as they are hot off the skillet.
When she’s in a hurry in the morning, Melissa places her frozen sourdough waffles on a cookie sheet and reheats them.
Admittedly, I have a fascination with doing things the old-fashioned way. The way people lived before we had supermarkets on every corner and drive-through convenience beckons to me like a lazy river on a hot August day. On our homestead we make it a goal to practice as many old-fashioned or traditional ways of life as possible, such as making our own sourdough starter.
I’ve read many historical accounts and heard tales about sourdough starters, from stories about miners in Alaska sleeping with their sourdough starter to keep it from freezing to sourdough starters being passed down in families for more than 100 years.
We live in a fairly rural location and it’s not always possible to drive the miles into town. A sourdough starter enables us to bake many different dishes without the aid of store-bought yeast. There’s nothing like the tangy taste of good sourdough bread slathered with butter and homemade blueberry jam, in butter with garlic or used as a bread bowl filled with homemade chili.
I initially wanted to learn about keeping a sourdough starter to avoid relying on store-bought yeast, but the more I found and learned, the more eager I was to use sourdough due to its health benefits.
Grains and wheat contain phytic acid, which prevents us from absorbing phosphorous and also binds to other minerals like calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium. When you make sourdough, by soaking the flour for a lengthy period, the phytic acid level is lowered, allowing your body to absorb the needed minerals in the food you’re making.
Steps To A Starter
You’ll find many recipes for beginning a sourdough starter, the leavening agent that makes sourdough bread rise, but I didn’t want to use any recipes that called for added sugar or store-bought yeast. I was determined to start my sourdough starter the way the pioneers did.
It’s simple to do. All you need is a glass jar, water and flour. Wild yeast lives in the air around us and we’re going to capture it and let it and wild bacteria start fermenting.
You can use any flour of your choice, but I believe you’ll have the most luck with whole-wheat flour. I grind my own flour at home and have used organic hard white wheat, hard red, rye and spelt flour. If you don’t grind your own, I’d recommend Bob’s Red Mill brand or a local stone-ground whole-wheat flour, if possible.
When you first begin your starter, it will require feeding twice a day for the first few weeks. After that, how often you feed it will depend on how often you cook with it. If you don’t use it much, you can store it in the fridge and feed it once a week.
Day One: In the morning place 1/4 cup of warm water (do not use treated or chlorinated water, we use our own well water) and 6 tablespoons flour in a clean glass jar. Stir it together and cover the jar with a piece of cheesecloth. You can also use a Fido jar without the rubber gasket to allow the jar to breathe. Place it in a warm area.
Twelve hours later check the starter for signs of any bubbles, which mean your starter is active, but you’ll only see one or two at this point. If you don’t see any bubbles, don’t panic, go ahead and add another 1/4 cup of warm water and 6 tablespoons of flour. Stir until combined, scraping the side of the jar. Cover and let rest.
Day Two: In the morning you should see some signs of activity in the starter. Feed the starter as above. Remember to scrape the sides of the jar to incorporate all of the starter when stirring. Feed it again after 12 hours.
Day Three: In the morning, remove half of the starter from the jar and either put it in your compost pile or in the garbage. You don’t want it to outgrow your jar and it’s not strong enough to use yet. Feed the starter as above. Feed it again after 12 hours.
Days Four Through Seven: As you did in days one through three, stir and feed your starter morning and evening or every 12 hours. Continue to feed the starter in this pattern for the rest of the week, removing some when there isn’t enough room in the jar for the starter to rise after feeding. By the end of the week you should see lots of bubbles and the starter should be rising a few hours after it is fed.
After The First Week
When feeding your starter for the first few weeks, use 6 tablespoons of flour with 1/4 cup of water each time. The starter should be like a thick batter. If it is too watery, take out a tablespoon of water at the next feeding. If it’s too thick, cut back a tablespoon of flour at the next feeding, adjusting as you go.
Once your starter is established, if you’re not planning on cooking with it for a few days but don’t want to put it in dormancy in the fridge, you can feed it 1/8 cup of water and 3 tablespoons of water twice a day.
This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Spring 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.
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