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Sourdough Starter from Scratch: Capturing the Wild Yeast


This is the time of year when I can look forward to baking again soon.  I don’t bake much in the summer because it makes the house too hot, and I am limited to an itty bitty outdoor toaster oven.  Not so good for fussing over bread loaves.  So the cooler weather encouraged me to get a sourdough starter going, to be ready for the bread baking season to come.

Every few years I experiment with making a starter from scratch – catching the wild yeast and making it grow.  I have had some successes and some failures, but this time I have a very active culture.  Here is how I did it.

making a sourdough starter from scratch


To make a sourdough mother, you need:

  • Clean glass or enamel bowl
  • Clean spoon
  • Clean distowel
  • 2 cups good quality white flour (I use King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour)
  • 1 1/2 cups good water (I use well water, but you could use distilled water or purified bottled water – you don’t want to use water that has been chlorinated, like what we call “city water.”  If you wouldn’t put it in your fishtank, don’t put it in your starter.)
  • a couple of cups more flour and water on hand to feed the starter for the first week

On Day 1, you will mix your 2 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water in the bowl, with the spoon, and cover with the dishtowel.  Leave it out on the counter in the kitchen.  That is all.  Seems simple, but you have just laid a Cunning Trap for some wild yeast.  If there is any wild yeast floating around in your kitchen (and there probably is), it will begin to grow in your yeast trap, also known as your bread and water mixture.  It may take a couple of days to show itself, or you may get lucky, like I did this time, and you may get a yeast culture growing rapidly right away.  In the picture above, the “mother” (in sourdough circles we call it a “mother” and refer to it as a “her,” now that you are making your own, you can do the same) is only 12 hours old, but you can see the bubbling that indicates the yeast is growing, feeding and respiring.  Those bubbles are what make your bread rise.

On Day 2, you will feed “her” 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup water.  As shown above, this is a simple process of dump and stir.  You won’t get her perfectly smooth, just a few swipes with a clean spoon to incorporate the flour and water is good enough; the yeast will do the rest.  If you see a clear fluid on top of the mother when you check it, that is fine, just stir it back in when you feed her.  The fluid is alcohol which is a result of the metabolism of yeast (wine or beer, anyone?) and acts as a natural preservative for your starter and adds flavor to your bread.

On Day 3, do the same.  Keep on doing this until you have reached Day 7.  At this point, you should use or discard some of the starter, and refrigerate the mother in a glass container (I am using a mason jar).

**I decided to refrigerate my starter on Day 3, due to its very active nature and the fact that it was already getting very flavorful/sour.  Use your own judgement, these are guidelines, not rules!

IF you see any kind of mold or pinkish fluid on your starter – it is no good!  Throw it out at once!  The lovely trap of flour and water is desirable to many microorganisms, but the only one that we want to catch is the wild bread yeast.  You may unwittingly catch some other kind.  Just throw it out and try again with fresh and very clean bowl, spoon, and towel.

Wild Sourdough Starter Links

Here are some good resources for reading about making a starter from scratch, but I encourage you to go ahead and try it.  You can read and read about this kind of process, and look at various methods and ingredients, but in the end, you just have to try it for yourself.

My guidelines above are based on the instructions found at “Bread the Mary Jane Way.”  I love how her site expresses the joy of making an elemental baking substance out of thin air, as it were!

My first experience with setting a Cunning Trap for the wild yeast living in my house came from the encouragement found in my dear old battered King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook.  They have quite a bit of that book online and here is the part about the starter.

There are very detailed instructions and lots of pictures here on the Wild Yeast Blog.

Soon I will tell you what to do with that starter once you have made it…

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