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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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Making Peach Jam for the freezer

Pomona’s Universal Pectin is a lovely product that allows the making of jam or jelly with any amount (even NONE)  of any sweetener you like.  It is available in the Texarkana area at Granary Street health food store, 3425 New Boston Road
Texarkana, TX (903-831-5940), at least I bought some there a while back.

The jam that I made today had:

12 cups of mashed up peaches (plus juice of one lemon)

2 cups of sugar.

The quantity of fruit used the whole box of pectin – this is not a product like SureJell, where you use the whole box at one time – but you could have made three 4cup batches of jam or jelly with  one box of pectin.

For comparison, using low sugar SureJell, the recipe would have been:

12 cups peaches

9 cups sugar.

Just for fun, I looked up the recipe with regular, full sugar SureJell (brace yourself):

12 cups peaches

15 cups sugar.

Now, it is fun to knock sugar, and my jam does taste really fresh because the fruit flavor comes through, but let’s look for a minute at the function of sugar in “preserves” – our jams and jellies.  Sugar is a powerful antimicrobial agent in our canned goods, keeping deadly bacteria at bay.  These low sugar jams do not have enough sugar to act as a preservative.   In my opinion they are not suitable for hot pack canning.  That is why I am using this for freezer jam.  Furthermore, they may not have adequate acid for safe water bath canning.  Please refer to  your local county home economist or some “real” recipe, as in the packaging of your pectin, to insure safety.

These jams and jellies will not keep in the fridge for an eternity like your jar of smucker’s grape jelly, either.  They need to be eaten up within a week of thawing or opening the jar – no problem!  On toast, on biscuits, stirred into yogurt, warmed and poured over ice cream – you will find a way.

Another function of sugar in jellying and jamming is to hold color and brighten flavor.  Over time, low sugar preserves may darken.  This is natural and is not an indicator that they are unsafe, but if you show them to your grandma, who used 15 cups of sugar in her brilliant, bright jam, she probably won’t be too impressed by your dull orange peach jam.  That’s ok, we know why it isn’t technicolor.   And while jams with no sweetener are possible, adding  just a little does improve the flavor – for an all fruit jam, use apple juice concentrate as the sweetener.  In fact, we all think another cup of sugar would have intensified the flavor of our peach jam a little, so next time I will probably adjust the quantity.

peach freezer jam

peach freezer jam in bags

So, here is the jam.  My big revolutionary idea was to pack it for the freezer in pint size freezer bags instead of jars.  I run short on jars, and I plan to just squeeze it out of the bags into a clean jar to put in the fridge when I want to eat it.  The bags fit better in the freezer and I don’t have to worry about breakage.  I think it will work!

If anyone on my Sunshine for Dinner subscription wants a 1/2 bushel of peaches, call me, 870-653-3062.  I can bring it to you for $30.00.

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Cecily eating from the garden

Cecily eating fresh from the garden


Our son, Max (not pictured . . .), is five years old, and at the age when kids say a lot of funny things.  He has cracked me up a couple of times lately with his comments about carrots.

When we first started pulling a few carrots to eat at the baby stage, he enjoyed them, but one day he asked me, “Mom, can’t we have some carrots that don’t have these plants growing out of the top?”

Evidently the leafy tops didn’t deter him, because one day he came in the house with damp dirt all around his mouth.  I asked him if he had been eating dirt.  He replied, “No, I’ve been eating dirty carrots!”

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satisfaction: pleasure or contentment derived from the gratification of a desire, need, or appetite

happy pigs

happy pigs

satisfaction: pleasure or contentment derived from the gratification of a desire, need, or appetite

It isn’t often enough that I have a truly satisfying day, but it does happen from time to time.   The other day, Kandan and I finished the new pig pen in the cold, and the pigs were happy to find new ground, a little green stuff, and lots of roots and acorns to munch.  Building this pen was hard work.   My kids were very good all day and did not cause any trouble – they were basically on their own indoors, because pigs and children do not mix.  Kids love looking at pigs and feeding pigs, but moving pigs is always a potentially dangerous situation, and while our pigs are friendly, they are still big and strong.   You have to be prepared with a combination of patience and fast reflexes.  You have to make a plan that will ultimately produce the pig going from point A to point B without the use of brute force, because the pig is stronger than you, and your dog, and your fence.  Trying to handle pigs while your kids are asking for elaborate snacks, or help with their projects, or reporting their petty bickering, is frustrating and counterproductive.  But there was none of that, and I am pleased with our whole family for each doing their part to accomplish this task.  The kids did run a huge ball of string around everything in the playroom with about a thousand knots, but this is to be expected.

After we finished with the pigs, Kandan dug potatoes and we had the loveliest dinner of tiny chops from a lamb that we raised ourselves, and new potatoes, and very tasty sweet baby green peas (from the grocer’s freezer, I’m afraid – don’t get mad and email me with “where are my peas, I want peas” – I know and I am trying to grow them!  They have flowers . . .).  The chops are 2″ long at the most, just the tiniest things that you could never buy, the only way to get them is to grow the lamb and butcher it yourself.  I made a pan sauce with red wine and butter and a pinch of herbs (rosemary,parsley, garlic) left over from making sausage the day before (yes, we stay busy).  It was so delicious!

When I was washing the potatoes, I was reminded of a book I read a few years ago, about an Irish bartender who hates a man and wants to kill him – one of the reasons he hated the man was because he didn’t eat potato skins.  So that evening when we were eating dinner, my daughter didn’t want the potatoes, no big deal.  Kandan and I were talking and I told him about the book and went to the shelf, and a small miracle occurred and I found it.  Here is the passage from “Bogmail” by Patrick McGinley.

Eales was a fastidious feeder who never touched bacon rind or pork crackling or the thin veins of white fat that made the best gammon [bacon] so tasty.  He never ate the frizzled fat of grilled lamb chops or sirloin steak, nor the crisp earthy jackets of baked potatoes.  Normally he would not have blamed him for avoiding the latter because the jackets of some potatoes were rough with scabs and excrescences.  But Roarty’s potatoes were different, grown lovingly in the sandy soil by the estuary and smooth to the touch as sea scoured beach pebbles.  The man who was not moved to eat the jackets of such potatoes was nothing if not untrustworthy.  He was blind to the beauties of life and the true delights of a wholesome table.  He was probably a man who harboured evil thoughts against his neighbor, a man from whom wise men one and all would lock up their daughters, at least those of them who still retained their maidenheads [this turns out to be very true – there are some ‘adult themes’ in this book and they are very funny].  The outcome was inescapable; Eales must be destroyed.

That is what our potatoes were like – sea scoured beach pebbles.  So after reading this passage aloud and laughing over it, my daughter decided to try the potatoes!  The power of literature prevails.  And she liked them so much that she even ate all the leftovers the next day.  And that does make a momma satisfied.

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On the farm . . .

On the farm . . .

During the whole month of August, the availability and variety of local produce has been declining dramatically.  This is a natural seasonal phenomenon, resulting from the end of the growing season of crops planted after the last frost, like squash and tomatoes.

To alleviate some of the availability and lack of variety problems, I have temporarily moved all deliveries to every other week.   If you are already on an every other week schedule, you probably didn’t get a call from me to discuss this, as things won’t change for you.

Don’t worry, it won’t last long.  I saw the first tiny baby squash on my plants yesterday, and we have green tomatoes that will soon be red, and other growers have cucumbers coming on, and we bought the first bunches of greens this week.  The chickens are laying more eggs.  Things are looking up!

Next year we may take a break from deliveries during August.  It is a busy time for life outside of the farm, with kids going back to school, and it is a time of low farm productivity, because early crops are tiring and late crops haven’t come on,   and high farm demand on the grower, with watering being critical and the intense heat making every hour of work feel like four hours.

Behind the scenes things are happening!  Delivery trucks bring boxes of seeds, the results of hours of pouring over catalogs, comparing varieties, scrutinizing planting charts and zone maps, and moaning and crying over this summer’s closing of Roy D. Hopkins Feed and Seed.  It is over – no more choosing seeds from little wooden drawers, scooped out by hand and carefully measured on a beautiful worn scale.  No more discussing the merits of one type of pea over another with an experienced seedsman.  No more trying to decipher the handwritten scrawl on the package that seemed clear when we bought it, but after a couple of months becomes cryptic.  I am just thankful we were able to experience it at all – Hopkins, you are missed!

But back to the goings on – we have planted garlic and bunching onions already today.  More ground is prepared for more garlic!  Garlic in all its forms is good, but freshly dug garlic is wonderful!  I can’t wait for you to try it  – but it will be next year, because the garlic must grow all fall and winter.

Seedlings are sprouting and growing in the refrigerated greenhouse (formerly known as my living space!).  There are all the winter brassicas coming up now – the familiar ones like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, and some exciting plants growing such as ‘Romanesca’, a living fractal – see it below, and Brussels sprouts – a family favorite.

I’ve never grown this stuff before – I have two varieties in the trial this year, one is much faster to mature than the other.  It will be cool weather before either are ready to taste, if they grow at all!  I am hoping for the best!

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Watching your food grow

Watching your food grow
Posted by Georgiaberry Mobley at 8/8/2007 5:57 AM and is filed under uncategorized

Here are squash seedlings,
ready to be set out in the garden.

Squash are some of the most rewarding seedlings to grow – if you want to start a plant with a kid this is the one to try.  It is as close to instant gratification as it gets, I think.  The seeds are large and easy to handle, the germination is very rapid, only a few days (not like the parsley that you see in the empty packs in the picture – it can take three weeks or more to sprout).  When the sprout comes up, it is usually wearing the hard outer seed coat, like a hat.  You can see this in the picture, in the lower left, a tiny seedling with a patch of bright white.  The hat falls off, and the seed leaves emerge, joyously green and very distinct from the true leaf, which emerges a couple of days later.  I don’t know if squash sprouts are edible, but they look like they would be delicious, maybe sauteed.  I might have to try that!

So, this past weekend we set out squash and more tomatoes.  It is so hot that I can only stand to be out in the garden planting in the evening, and besides it is better for the seedlings not to be transplanted in the heat of the day.  We also have three kinds of beans growing, an Italian heirloom bean “Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco,” a french fillet bean, and a snap bean.  I have some very tiny seedlings in pots for the scallions we will be eating this winter (hopefully!).

So that’s some of what is going on in the garden this morning . . .

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Another baby goat . . .

Another baby goat . . .
Posted by Georgiaberry Mobley at 8/7/2007 6:14 AM and is filed under uncategorized

An armload of goats

He finally arrived – in this picture he is the lower goat, with the larger white marking on the forehead.  He is five days old now (8-7-07) but in the picture he is one day old.  As you can see he is already as big as Cookie, and he is very active.  The midday heat is hard for him but he is getting better every day.  We call him “Cracker.”  He will be a wether (a neutered male goat).  He and Cookie look like twins, and since the mothers came from the same herd I suspect they have the same father.

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Posted by Georgiaberry Mobley at 8/1/2007 7:06 AM and is filed under uncategorized

This is why gardeners love to read seed catalogs – anticipation.  Mmmmm, what are we going to grow so that we can EAT IT!  I don’t see why I should have all the fun – you’ll be eating it, too.

So here is some of what I am ordering to plant for fall and winter.

First and foremost is SALAD, and I mean lettuce, red and green, romaine and buttercrunch, mixed baby greens and whole heads and mini heads and big leaves for making wraps, and mesclun – a spicy eureopean salad mix.  We have a grower with a greenhouse, so we should have access to lettuce all winter.

Then we will have finger food – and by that I mean veggies that you can just eat raw and fresh, like carrots (3 kinds) and radishes (‘Easter Egg’ and ‘Icicle’ and french breakfast types), and sugar pod peas and snow peas – kids love these peas, they are like garden candy.

We will be trying brocolli and cauliflower – ours is not the ideal climate for these but nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.

And scallions.

And greens – I long for greens during the heat of summer.  Besides our southern favorites, turnip greens and mustard greens (don’t worry, I’ll walk you through the prep for these, and they are delicious) we will have the asian greens that I love – bok choi, for instance – and kale and swiss chard (see the picture above).  Also beet greens and the beautiful beets that go with them, including the ‘Chiogga’ beet that is the gourmet favorite.  If you have only ever suffered through a beet from a can, you are going to be amazed, and they are packed with nourishment.  And it is a little tricky, but we are going for spinach, probably in the early spring, not this fall.

And whatever else we find that is good to eat!

We are entering a lull right now – in between the flush of summer crops and the onset of later plantings, when the oppressive heat is hard on the grower and plants alike.  It is times like this that it helps to look to the future – anticipation!

Oh and speaking of anticipation, I am buying lots of baby chicks in the next few weeks because the demand for eggs is huge!  Rhode Island Red brown egg laying hens is what I am going for, and I found them locally so they don’t have to suffer through the mail.  They will be raised from hatching with plenty of space and a clean pen so there is no need for the routine antibiotics that factory produced chickens get.  I’ll post a picture of the chicks when I get them.  So cute!  About a month from now . . .then a few months more until they begin to lay eggs.  Lots of eggs!

What do you want to eat?  Email me at or call 870-653-3062 or leave a comment and we’ll consider the possibilities.

Disclaimer! — Please keep in mind that there are many variables when growing and I am not promising any of these veggies – but I am promising that, like always, I am doing my best to grow healthy delicious produce for all of us, and it usually works out!

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Baby Goat – extreme cuteness

Baby Goat – extreme cuteness
Posted by Georgiaberry Mobley at 7/31/2007 5:57 AM and is filed under uncategorized

Cecily and Cookie

This little goat is doing well and it is fun to watch her prancing about following her mama, Ginger.  Another doe, Calico,  is about to deliver any time.  I’m sure since a torrential rainstorm is headed our way it will be today!  Goats like to be inconvenient whenever they can.  Hope all goes well.

We purchased these Nigerian Dwarf goats about six weeks ago for the purpose of clearing brush.  This is part of our farm principle “Let Animals Do Work.”   We fenced an overgrown area with cattle panels and turned in three goats and three sheep, and they have eaten everything down in about a month.  We can now go in and cut out the small saplings (mostly sweetgum and sassafras) and knock down what is left of the wild blackberry bramble and fox grape, and then mow the area, and then it will be ready for whatever use is coming next – growing veggies for you, no doubt.  The goats and sheep will be moved on to the next area, in this case right next to where they are now.

Here is another cute goat picture.

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