all about STARTER

-all about Starter

Please be sure to read this entire bit of info ( all the way to the end) to get all the important things you need to know about whole grain starter.

I live in the west among people who’s ancestors came across the plains as pioneers. I had a neighbor once who had  in her fridge a cherished sourdough starter handed down to her by her mother that was brought across the plains by her great great grandmother. She  and her sisters counted it as treasure, and knew exactly how old it was, each year adding another year to it’s age—- to the marvel of her neighbor–me!

Starter is an old-fashioned word for leavening, or the natural yeast, that which makes the dough to rise.

You need to know that bakers in the US, while making (it’s almost always white flour) sourdough bread, often use vinegar for the sour flavor. They also make it without the soaking of the dough to neutralize the phytates, and break down the gluten. Very little, if any!, true whole grain sourdough bread, without any commercial yeast, is made (and especially commercially made and sold) in this country at this writing. We need wild yeast, soaked-flour, whole grain bakeries! These bakeries would need to be solely devoted to purely sourdough yeasts. If one tried to make both kinds of bread in a bakery, the commercial yeasts nowadays would quickly overtake the gentle wild yeasts.

Any room or bakery establishment becomes, what I like to say, “condusive to sourdough”. The wild yeasts begin to live in the air and on the cupboards, and counters. If no harsh chemicals for cleaning and no commercial yeasts adulterate the room environment, the healthy wild yeasts live happily in service to the baker of the breads.

No commercial yeasts are used in the bread that I teach you how to make. None! Some bakers and recipes use just a pinch of c. yeast. to “help” it to rise. What happens when yeast gets in a warm, moist environment? It grows!– and literally takes over! I do not agree with “a little” commercial yeast being added. One cannot claim to be producing true sourdough bread that way! So what if the bread doesn’t rise to the sky like the typical bread shape of white and tan breads people are used to. This great bread still makes just as good a sandwich or toast–just a little different shape!

Here are some definitions that may help to make things clear.

Starter: The leavening ingredient for sourdough bread. Starter is basically a loose,runny dough made from whole wheat or rye ground grain flour (rye is best because of the high amount of phytase in rye)and water that has wild yeast introduced into to it( by using raw,organic fruit or vegetable juice) and the wild yeasts in the air, then left to ripen or lacto-ferment for a few days until very bubbly and strong enough to grow thru-out (or leaven) a batch of bread in 7-12 hrs. No sugar other than the grape or other fruit sugars used in the starter are used in the bread. Recipe  to make your own appears below. The starter is then used in small quantities to make the bread, as you would use yeast in yeast bread.

Commercial yeast: the yeast commonly sold in stores and used by bakers in the US
There are two kinds of commercial yeast, generally: traditional and rapid rise. Both traditional and rapid rise use sugar for feeding.

Everlasting yeast: This is what many people often think is sourdough starter, but it is made with commercial yeast. It is wet  commercial yeast dough. And it can be kept going in similar manner to starter by feeding water,sugar and more flour. But it is c. yeast based!-not sourdough.

 More about  whole grain starter 

Starter is made from whole grain flour, water, and a little raw juice of either a fruit or vegetable. A friend of mine recently made starter(from scratch) from raw pineapple juice. She said it worked very well for her bread.  One of the most common juices, and what I use, is raw grape juice from you own local organic,unsprayed, raw grapes. You’ll only need a Tbls.(3 tsp.) or so. Make sure the grapes have not been sprayed with any chemicals. The reason grape juice is so effective is there are an abundance of naturally occurring wild yeasts on the outside of the grapes.

Once you make a batch of starter, or get some from a friend,  you “keep it going” by feeding it every week while keeping it in your fridge. It can be kept out of the fridge at room temp. but it must be fed more flour and water at least once a day. If it is not fed, it will die and rot in a couple of days. Your nose will tell you! Good starter has a pleasant tangy, grain smell. Also, if it smells yeasty it has been taken over(the balance of good bacteria and yeast is out of whack) by too much yeast. Simply keep back a couple of tablespoons, discard the remainder and start a fresh batch with what you have saved.
Starter contains a nice balance of good bacteria and wild yeasts which are present all around us all the time. The more you bake sourdough products in your kitchen, the more of these you will have on your kitchen cupboards and counters and in the air. If you are a person who uses chemicals to kill germs on your counters and cupboards or uses a lot of disinfectants, those products will kill the good bacteria also, and may enter your bread, and you may have difficulty making naturally leavened (sourdough) bread in your kitchen. Also, if you want to have a true sourdough kitchen or bakery, you should not use commercial yeast in the same, as the aggressive commercial yeasts will quickly take over the gentle, natural sourdough starter.
You can learn more about rehydtrating and expanding wet and dry starter here.

If you want to share some of the starter you have with a friend, simply place a couple T. in a clean plastic baggie or jar and have them go home and expand it to 2 C. Two cups is a good amount to have on hand at all times. You can always expand it to more than that, if you want to, by simply adding more flour and water. You can make pancake and waffle dough by adding eggs and soda, and maybe a little buttermilk to the starter itself. the soda neutralizes the acid and they taste great. Of course the entire starter mixture should have soaked 8 hrs or more.

Directions – Here is a recipe for a starter made from scratch:

Place 1/2 Cup of freshly ground whole wheat or rye flour in a pint size sterile glass jar. Add 2 tsp. of fresh grape juice that may include the skins of the grape, and enough water (add slowly while stirring) to make a thick pancake dough consistency. Non-clorinated water is ideal but chlorine is ok because the chlorine will be out in 24 hrs. Do not stir a lot because you do not want to develop the gluten strands. Cover lightly.  Some exposure to the air is good. You can store the starter at any thickness of dough,but I like the thick-pancake dough consistency because it is so easy to stir it into the water when making your bread. If you need to you could make it as thick as heavy bread dough and put it in a ball in your pocket, but that would certainly be less convenient.

The starter must be kept un-adulterated with anything other that the 3 pure ingredients. Do not add salt or sugar or spices etc. You can add those to your dough but not to your starter.
Feed it everyday for 3-4 days. Add just 1/4 C.(for a two cup batch of starter) –the more starter you have in ajar, the more you have to feed it flour and a little water each day. I add the flour first to the jat of atarter , then add enough water, a little at a time to bring it back to the thick pancake dough consistency. Make sure it is not sitting at a cold temp. Try for around 78-80 degrees. You may leave the jar open to the air thru the day. Lightly cover at night.
When it has lots of crackly bubbles thru-out, and it has a little rounded raised look to it, it is ready to use in bread. This sometimes takes 4-5 days of feeding. Caution: Make sure you feed it everyday!!

Back up your starter

4 thoughts on “all about STARTER

  1. I’m once again giving the starter a try. I have never been successful! (And I stopped trying for a year or so). I think part of the problem is that I’m in New York City. Different altitude…

    3 Questions:

    1. Is it important that the 1/4 c flour that is added to the starter every day is freshly ground? It is a bit difficult for me to grind such a small quantity of flour.

    2. Is it important that the flour is organic?

    3. Is it important to add fruit juice? How much long will the starter take if no grape juice is added? I don’t easily find organic grapes near my home.

    Thank you!
    All the best,

    1. Corinna,
      Wow, I apologize for overlooking your comment for so long. You probably got help somewhere else by now, but I will answer you anyway.
      1)Whole wheat flour loses vitamins after being ground –the longer it sits. It is the oxidation that does it (the inside of the kernel being exposed to oxygen) So for example the vit E is gone in 72 hours. Putting it in the freezer slows this process. If you have kept your flour in the freezer, it should be plenty nutritious for your starter to eat for awhile.
      But, if you are keeping your starter in the fridge, it only has to be feed every couple weeks or so. In fact, if you leave it in the fridge for several months(even a year, I tried it to see) with out feeding, all you have to do is take it out and feed it the day before you make bread,leave it at room temp for a day, and it will get bubbly. Its just when you have no refrigeration( like the pioneers) that you have to feed it every day.
      2)It’s important that the flour is not genetically modified. Growing genetically mod. wheat is illegal in the U.S. but?!! Organic is nice but so expensive. A company that says they do to use genetically modified seed is what I use. Two of these are Wheat Montana they sell to Walmart as Praire Grain Wheat, and Walton Wheat in Idaho. Genetically modified wheat does not sprout very well–very few of the kernels sprout so that is one way to tell.
      I tried making bread with gmo wheat and it did not work–but that was just once–not very scientific. But I do not buy their organic–too pricey for me and my bread is good.
      3) You can make it without fruit juice, actually any organic vegetable juice works too. It is important that it is raw. Grapes are just the fastest to bubble, so when you use organic carrot juice for example– just give it another couple of days longer to bubble thru out. Make sure you feed it everyday and leave it at room temp.when you are making it for sure. Then once it is bubbly and rises a little in the jar, just put it in the fridge. If you leave it unrefrigerated while making it or after, without feeding it, it will rot when it runs out of food(the wheat flour).
      Can I send you some of my starter–dehydrated?–no charge, since I did not see this for so long? If you want me to, send your address.

      So keep trying this! It will be worth it to your health!
      Thanks for writing!

  2. I don’t have access to good grape juice but I could get organic apples and juice them in my juicer, would that work? Or is there another fruit or vegetable that would work well?

    1. I thought I answered you but your comment still says pending. So– if you still need an answer: Grapes are the fastest if you are making from scratch but they are not the only thing to use. They are the fastest because they have a microbe flora in rich abundance on their skins. Organic apple, potato(very hard to find in this country anymore–you almost have to grow them yourself-they are all GMO’d) organic pineapple etc. I have a friend who made starter with pineapple juice and it was nice and lively.
      Since I may be so late with this, I would be glad to send you some of my dehydrated starter which you just stick down in some flour and water, wait for it to rehydrate, stir again and wait for it to bubble and it’s ready. –free of charge of course!

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