Sourdough Celebrations: Part One

It feels utterly trite to write a post about sourdough starter as my eyes skip back and forth between this screen and headlines about exposed nuclear fuel rods and volcanos erupting AGAIN and 10,000 dead. Not to mention the inner dread that is building as I think about our precarious Pacific perch, and hear somewhere in the background the ticking of a clock that is counting off the inevitable day when what happened THERE will happen HERE. Now more than ever my feet are itching and I want to hightail it to higher and more solid ground. When I was a kid, I used to stare at Mt. Lassen in the distance and make escape route plans in case it ever decided to blow. Right now I think I’d take a volcano over an earthquake/tsunami any day. Get me outta here.

And what to do with all the empathy, anxiety and sorrow for the people of Japan? Especially when I can’t throw money at it? Well, there’s always things like tonglen. There’s the (ever increasing) opportunity to stay open to my own experience and pain in regards to world community disasters, thereby staying open to the suffering of others. And there’s the choice to continue to celebrate life, even in times when it looks like our days here could be numbered (how many close calls does it take with total breakdowns of dangerous technology before we “get it”?) or even when celebrating feels foreign as we confront the dissolution of our illusion of immortality.

It’s on days like today, that a post about sourdough bread, the staff of life, is actually quite appropriate indeed.


As you may remember, my first foray into the wilderness of sourdough was filled with a bit of naivety. What then followed was several days of obsessive research regarding methods of cultivating wild yeast. After reading varying accounts of what works and what doesn’t, I hit upon a method that seemed quite reliable and decided to give it a go. An undertaking requiring at least a week, I was able to document at first with the camera, and afterwards with (and my apologies for the quality) my camera phone.

Day 1-2

This was actually taken on the morning of day three, but from the top it still looks the same. A mixture of rye flour and water. Jeff thinks it looks like almond butter.
After sitting out for 2 1/2 days with a damp cloth over the top, lo and behold! IT'S ALIVE! This is still that beginning mixture of only rye and water. Using rye flour was the first "tip" I found in my research. Maybe because the flour has wild yeast in it, or maybe because the sugars are more accessible than wheat...I don't know, but it works!
After the first feeding. Simply more rye and water.
And the next day. And the day after that it looked the same.

If you have already read the instructions, you know that the feedings switch from just rye, to rye and white flour in different proportions. As soon as I started feeding the white, everything kinda stopped. The starter wasn’t dead, and in fact, continued to smell more and more fruity and sour (in a good way). But I wasn’t getting the magical sponge that is the wild yeast promised land. I was about to give up.

Then, I realized that for the first few days the weather was quite warm. After that, we had a storm move in, and despite having the oven on low to provide some coziness, it was still rather cool indoors. So I enlisted a little bit of help.

Imagine, if you will, a photo of three covered bowls, with a reading lamp positioned directly above them. Because that is one of the pictures on our lost camera that I was not able to download before it disappeared.

And that, my friends, turned out to be the key. If you would like to make your own starter, I highly recommend the method I linked to earlier and just do one other thing. Keep a lamp (with a regular bulb, not an energy saving one, alas) on above your little yeasties, 24 hrs a day, to provide the sourdough version of an electric blanket.

Ew. Why does it look pink on top? It wasn't in real phone weirdness. Minus the pink mystery, this is what healthy starter should look like. This was taken the day after the full white flour feeding.

Stay tuned for Part 2. Otherwise titled “Smells Like Sourdough, Tastes Like Sourdough, Looks Like a Hockey Puck.”

Here are the directions, reprinted from Backwoods Home, in case you are too lazy to go to the link.

Recipe for creating a sourdough starter
Day 11 cup rye flour
1/2 cup water

Day 2

Do nothing

Day 3

half of the starter
1/4 cup rye flour
1/4 cup white flour
1/4 cup water

Day 4half of the starter
1/8 cup rye flour
3/8 cup white flour
1/4 cup water

Day 5

half of the starter
1/8 cup rye flour
3/8 cup white flour
1/4 cup water

Repeat this feeding until the starter is rising regularly. It should be nearly doubling its height. When this happens go to the “White flour feeding.”White flour feeding

half of the starter
1/2 cup white flour
1/4 cup water

Repeat this feeding until the starter is rising regularly, then move on to the “Dough-like starter feeding.”

Dough-like starter feeding

half of the starter
7/8 cup white flour
1/4 cup water

At this point your starter should be rising and falling regularly. The cycle should take about 8-10 hours: you feed the starter, and after 8-10 hours, the starter is risen, ready to make bread or to be fed again.

By Emily Buehler for Backwoods Home, online.



5 thoughts on “Sourdough Celebrations: Part One

    1. it is good, but it’s definitely not perfect as you’ll see when i post later. i want all the tips that your baker man will be able to give you! maybe we should have a sourdough bake off with people from all over the country, then each person sends another a loaf, and we can be unified by wild yeast. 🙂 i wonder if it will taste different, depending on where it’s from?

      is your cider vinegar done?

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