A true sourdough does not contain added yeast. That’s right. Check your recipe. Does it call for yeast? Probably! When I set out on my quest to make good-tasting, 100% whole grain loaves of bread for my family, I eventually wandered into this unfamiliar territory.
I found plenty of information on the Web regarding how to create my own starter. Sure, I could buy one, but the purist in me wanted to know where it came from and what was in it. Rye seemed to be the favorite for a natural sourdough starter, so I headed in that direction.
My first attempt to make a starter worked according to plan, just as the directions said it would! With only fresh ground rye berries, and filtered water, I created a wonderfully sweet – that’s right – sweet smelling sourdough starter. I thought the hard part was behind me. Then came trying to use the starter in recipes…
I can’t recall how many attempts at bread recipes that I made using this starter. Hard lump after lump, flat loaves of inedible bread. Fortunately, my chickens aren’t so picky. I eventually tossed in the towel and put my starter in the back of the fridge to sit for a very lonnnng time, figuring if I didn’t look at it, I wouldn’t be reminded of the defeat, of all the wasted time (and grain).
Months went by and I found some new recipes online that sparked my interest in homemade sourdough again, giving me confidence that I could tackle it. I pulled out my sad looking starter, poured off the booch from the top, and set it in a warm place in the kitchen to see if there were any signs of life. To my shock and surprise, after a couple of days I saw bubbles! Alive! Time to feed and baby that thing back into service!
And so the adventure continued, but this time I had some new kitchen tools that were recommended for wet doughs. Brotform baskets. Ceramic covered cookers. Viola! The magic happened, and I started pumping out loaf after loaf of delicious, 100% fresh ground whole-grain spelt sourdough loaves. As my confidence improved, I started swapping and mixing grains. Spelt-Kamut. Hard-white-spelt-kamut. I was sharing and freezing loaves. With fresh farm butter, we were devouring 2-3 loaves ourselves each week.
Then I killed my starter.
Not on purpose, of course. It just started smelling “off”. The sweetness was gone. What had I done? I have my suspicions, but cannot scientifically confirm. I have come to believe that not all rye berries are of the same quality, and fresh-ground is the only kind to use when feeding my starter.
I started from square one again, with a new starter. I have since bought three different brands of rye berries, and the old adage “you get what you pay for” seems to ring through. The rye berries that cost me $1 per pound did not produce a healthy starter. Mid-range berries for around $2.25 per pound also did not perform well, but still better than the $1/lb berries. The $4.35/lb berries did phenomenal, although, that is what I’d call it when compared to the poorer-performing berries. I also switched to bottled spring water, instead of r/o filtered water, in case it made a difference.
Back in the game with a healthy starter, I’ve had about 6 flat loaves in a row. I’m frustrated and tired, and putting this baby back in the fridge for a while. I do think about it maybe twice a week, but the pressure is gone. I know I can revive it, and I know I can get back to baking. I have just made some delicious, non-nutritious simple white loaves to remind myself that my skills are still intact. They are. I’m not completely crazy. Yet.
Sourdough takes time and patience, neither of which I have much of, it would seem, at the end of the day. I’m not giving up. I’m just taking another….vacation from bread.
To be continued.