Starting a Sourdough Culture: Capturing the Wild Yeasts

I haven’t talked much lately about our bread baking adventures, but we’re still making all our own breads. This summer I took a break from my monthly bread updates, because there just wasn’t anything new to mention. I did wade into the wonderful world of tortilla making, and we’re really enjoying our homemade whole grain tortillas. But our latest project has me headed down a road I’ve been down before: sourdough breads.

Both Lynda and I have both fond and not so fond memories of making breads from starters. Anyone remember the Amish Friendship bread that was all the rage some years ago? I still have visions of friends showing up with a loaf of bread, and a container of the starter for it. The bread was usually quite tasty, but the starter required what seemed like a fairly complicated amount of care and feeding. How many of us wound up letting our starters die a slow death in the refrigerator or on the kitchen counter and then being racked by guilt? Ok, maybe it was just me with the guilt part, but I’m guessing a lot of starter wound up in the trash. The Herman Starter was another popular one that made it’s rounds years ago. My wife remembers making and using that one.

whole wheat sourdough starter on day two

I’m trying to do something a little different this time. I’m starting a whole wheat sourdough starter that will capture the wild yeasts that are all around us in the air, without using any commercial yeast. I’m following the instructions in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book, with a little Peter Reinhart twist: I’m using pineapple juice instead of water for the first two days, and I’m stirring the solution several times each day to aerate it. This ‘pineapple juice solution’ addresses the problems some have in getting a good sourdough starter established. Pineapple juice is at the perfect pH level to promote the growth of the yeasts while inhibiting the growth of other organisms. Reinhart details this method in his Whole Grain Breads book, and you can click here for an explanation he has on his blog.

UPDATE: You can also find good instructions in this King Arthur blog article: Creating your own sourdough starter.

At any rate, this starter is pretty easy to make, using only whole wheat flour and water (or pineapple juice for the first two days). I will be able to refrigerate the starter and only have to feed it flour and water every week or so when we’re not actively using it for baking. Though I used whole wheat flour, the folks at King Arthur state that rye and spelt flours also work well for this starter.

Time will tell if I’ve managed to catch some tasty wild yeasts. The whole process should take about a week. Right now the starter is just sitting on the counter, not looking like much. But with any luck unseen organisms are at work in the bowl, feeding and multiplying. I do have faith and time on my side. And the local readers need not fear, I won’t be showing up on your doorstep with this one! At least not for a while…

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6 Responses to Starting a Sourdough Culture: Capturing the Wild Yeasts

  1. Julie says:

    I was gifted with some ‘starter’ recently but discovered that the wrong organisms had been incubated! I was surprised to see how easy it was to start my own. Look forward to hearing more about your sourdough adventures!

  2. Jody says:

    What a great idea! With that bit of extra help that King Author gives you, I’ll bet you have success. I recently read in one of my wine making books that long ago people were completely dependent upon capturing wild yeast to ferment their wine. It was a crap shoot as to whether the must would “take” or not.

  3. Robin says:

    I remember the Friendship Bread starter thingy. Mine didn’t make it very long. I also had sourdough starter from my late Uncle. Boy, I sure do wish that I kept that going!

    It will be interesting to watch your sourdough adventures!

  4. I remember making a lot of that Amish friendship bread!

    For sourdough seed culture I’ve always used dark rye, and fed it with unbleached high protein flour.

    When I made my first Reinhart starter, I had trouble with the Leuconostoc bacteria in the flour that mimics active yeast in the starter. It almost bubbled out of the crock in just a few days! I didn’t want to start over, and the pineapple juice ‘fix’ made me concerned that other undesirable bugs would be invited to the party as well. I can attest that just the aeration alone worked for me (I was using unbleached KA bread flour at the time). But it was an exercise in patience, as I stirred it 3-4 times a day for at least a few days.

    I’ve also occasionally let my sourdough starter go too long before feeding…really too long, but have been able to always kick start it again by doing one feeding with just Dark Rye, waiting a day or two, and then taking a cup of starter and feeding it back with regular high protein flour. Sometimes it takes a few days of feeding and aeration to resume normal activity, but I’ve resuscitated it a couple of times that way, without having to completely start over! The longer you can keep your starter going, the more complex the flavors should become. Good luck!

  5. mandy says:

    very cool! i make all of our family’s bread too. (this is my everyday bread recipe: my mother in law is a super bread baker and i mean SUPER! she was into collecting wild yeasts for a long time and couldn’t figure out why hers wasn’t as good as she wanted it to be until she learned different regions have better wild yeasts and come out with way better bread (she is in NW montana) very excited to hear how our your bread comes out!

  6. Pingback: Whole Wheat Sourdough Pita Bread | Our Happy Acres

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