Several summers ago I had my first attempt at making a sourdough starter. The weather was apocalyptically hot, and unfortunately, the wild yeasts were not long for this world in such conditions. I’ve been pondering trying to repeat it, successfully, for sometime, and after seeing this great little film about Californian baker Chad Robertson, I’m inspired again!
It seems there are countless different recipes and proportions for enticing wild yeasts into your bread-making life, however, for literary guidance I’ve settled on two books. Sandor Ellix Katz‘s indispensible classic Wild Fermentation offers spontaneity and flair while inspiring confidence and experimentation, while Yoke Mardewi‘s Wild Sourdough is a more meticulous Australian guide, replete with flow charts and timed processes.
Sourdough starter is really just a forum for wild yeasts to do their thing, and based on the recommendations of both Katz and Mardewi, I bought myself a bag of biodynamic rye flour and combined it with water until I had the consistency of “pancake batter”. Mardewi suggests a ratio of 1:1.5 water to flour, but I found that to be too doughy, so I just kept adding water gently until it seemed about right. My friend Bruce, a gentleman of culinary distinction said later that rye often needs a ratio of 1:2 flour to water to get the desired consistency. I thought I’d try two batches: one using filtered tap water (Batch 1), and the other, putting a jug under the downpipe outside to catch some gum leaf/gutter sediment-infused rain water (Batch 2).
I covered both with cheesecloth, and left them on the kitchen bench, checking in daily and giving them a stir. Here’s how they’ve developed:
Day 1 (about 22 degrees, raining): Batters freshly made, with similar consistency
Day 2 (about 26 degrees, dry and sunny): Batch 1 still looks much the same, Batch 2 is foamy below the surface, like bread that has been allowed to rise, but has little evidence of bubbling on the surface, and is already beginning to smell sour.
Day 3 (32 degrees, sunny): Both batches have patches of foam on the upper crust, and are airy below the surface, both are beginning to take on the sour smell, but Batch 2 is more pungent.
Day 4 (mid-20s, sunny and dry): Both continuing to smell sour, with small bubbles on the surface.
Day 5 (lows-20s, overcast): Both smelling like genuine sourdough, but neither have bubbles on the surface. Did I miss the yeast boat again? I added a bit more flour so they were less sloppy, perhaps the extra flour might invigorate the yeasts a little more!
By Day 6, change seemed imperceptible, all that was in evidence were some tiny bubbles on the surface, broadly spaced, nothing like the foamy masses promised by books. Even so, the smell was unarguably sour, so I thought the best way to test out the activity of the starter was to cook with it. It’s alive!