Though there are other methods that are fairly easy, I recommend this method for a couple of reasons. First, it involves basic ingredients that everyone already has on hand: flour and water. You can start your yeast today and not have to run to the store. Second, wheat for the flour can be grown on the homestead for those looking to be as self-sufficient as possible.
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It’s also a proven method that has been used for thousands of years!
Sound good? Here’s what you’ll need to get started.
Flour – Any unbleached, wheat type flour will do except self-rising as it has baking soda added to it. You can use all purpose, bread flour, whole wheat, or rye.
Water – It’s important that the water is non-chlorinated as chlorine will kill wild yeast.
A Large Jar or Container – For your jar and stirring device, use non-reactive materials like stainless steel, glass, or plastic.
A Spoon or Stirring Device – Clean cloth or coffee filter and a rubber band or string.
• In a large glass container, mix 1/2 cup of water with 3/4 cup of any wheat type flour.
• Stir well, ensuring there’s no dry flour.
• Cover with a breathable but fly-proof lid. A small piece of clean cloth or a coffee filter and a string or rubber band should suffice.
You can leave your container on your counter. It will work better if it’s kept between 70°-85°F. After 12-24 hours you should start to see bubbles.
Feeding Your Starter
You should also begin “feeding” your starter at the 24-hour mark. To feed your starter, take out half of it before adding another 1/2 cup of water and 3/4 cup of flour. Then begin repeating this feeding process every 12 hours. Don’t worry, you don’t have to waste the removed half. It can be used to make bread or given to a friend to start their own. It will store in the fridge for several days.
After 5-7 days it should rise until doubled between feedings and have a distinct sourdough smell. At this point, you can start using it to make sourdough. Always feed it before using and leave at least 1 cup of starter to ensure you don’t have to repeat the process! Different recipes will require different amounts of starter.
If at any time you notice an “off” smell, mold, or pinkish color, discard your starter and try again. The starter may darken, but it shouldn’t look moldy and should only smell like sourdough.
Storing Your Starter
After your starter is established, you can also store it in the refrigerator with a tight lid. The cool temperature slows down the yeast, and therefore it won’t need as much food. If stored in the fridge, you should feed it about once a week and let it rest on the counter for about 2 hours each time you feed it.
If you know you cannot take care of your starter for an extended period, you may choose to dry it. First, feed your starter and let it sit until it’s good and bubbly. Then spread it in a thin layer on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet(s) or dehydrator rack(s). Then let it dry at room temperature. Once it’s completely dry and brittle, you can break it up and store it in an airtight container. The drying process can take up to five days.
To rehydrate your starter and begin using it again, you can soak each 1/3 cup of dried sourdough pieces with 1/4 cup of water until the pieces are fully dissolved. This may take several hours with occasional stirring. When it’s all dissolved, begin feeding it every 12 hours without discarding any until your starter has begun to bubble and rise again. Then you can resume normal feeding and usage.
This no-nonsense method of capturing wild yeast can provide you with delicious bread and increased self-sufficiency. Keep a sourdough starter in your kitchen for their flavor, practicality, and rich heritage.
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