Monday, September 2, 2013

Simple Sourdough Feeding Routine

A couple years ago, I wrote a post about how to catch your own wild yeast. If you're new to sourdough (welcome, welcome!), that post is a good place to start, as it contains some good information about the hows and whys. Click here to check it out.

Since then, I have made my own starter a number of times, in a few different ways, with much success. The one I'm maintaining right now came from Azure Standard, and it's just beautiful. I've made bread, rolls, pancakes, crepes, crackers, muffins, cinnamon rolls, pizza crusts, pot pies, and even chocolate cake. It's marvelous to work with, and a little practice pays off quickly. We love the taste and our bodies love to digest it.

Today I thought I'd show you my feeding routine. Meet The Mama.

Isn't she lovely?

The keys to caring for your starter are food and warmth. If you feed once or twice a day, you can keep her out on the counter. If you'd prefer to feed her less frequently, keep her in the fridge (where things happen more slowly). Just remember that the longer you go without feeding her, the longer it will take to renew her vigor. I never use my Mama starter for recipes. More on that in a second.

(Incidentally, I have a wonderful book on natural yeast wherein the author states that she always gives her starters male names. That did not resonate with me. She must be female because she is full of life.)

I keep a pretty pitcher of water on my counter at all times. You must feed your starter with pure water, and though I'm fairly sure my fridge filter gets rid of the chlorine, I know chlorine evaporates, so I leave it out. Just to be sure.

I also always have a jar of freshly-ground flour on my counter. I generally grind my grain right when I need it, leaving any extra in a jar for sourdough feeding. It's always quite fresh. The fresher the better.

So here's what I do. It all takes 3 minutes or less.

I take roughly half of what's in the Mama starter, and discard it into a quart jar. I only use the starter from the quart jar for recipes so I never make the mistake of accidentally using all my starter. If you simply want to strengthen your original starter, you can always compost the discard.

I make sure I have 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup measuring cups on hand (the 1/4 for water, the 1/3 for flour).

Add a 1/4 cup of the pure water to each jar and mix well. I usually double the amount in the quart jar so I have more sooner. :) If you want, you can safely triple without overwhelming.

Then, add a 1/3 cup of the (preferably) freshly-ground flour, and stir vigorously. Again, I double the amount in the quart jar.

Scrape the sides, making sure the rim of the jar is clean, cover with cheesecloth or a paper towel, and you're done! I thought that pint jar was looking a little crusty, so I changed to a new one after the feeding. I don't always.

Here's what they look like thirty minutes after feeding. See the life? They will eventually about double in size as the wild yeasts have their feast.

You can start making recipes right away. Many bread recipes only use 1/2 cup of starter! Once you have two cups in that quart jar, you absolutely must make this cast iron pancake recipe: Erin's Oh-So-Fluffy Sourdough Pancakes. I one and a half the recipe for my family of four big eaters and one little eater. There's no added flour, so you can make it right away with no additional souring time.

Here's my now 3-year-old blowing out his birthday candles on his own little pancake just yesterday (after he'd nibbled at the side a bit).  His breakfast request.

There are hosts of other sourdough recipes online. If you want a great collection, the Gnowfglins Sourdough A to Z ebook is my current favorite, though the other I mentioned earlier (The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast) is good as well, with lots of information and lovely pictures.

Happy Souring!


  1. Timely! Thanks for sharing the info, and the recipe. My body loves sourdough pancakes. And your sourdough cake. And sourdough bread... And.... Everything else made with sourdough. Yep.

  2. P.s. how often do you do this routine? And also, do you think hard red wheat that was packed with those oxygen packets would work?

    1. I typically keep my starter in the fridge, but I use it frequently so I feed pretty often. Even when I'm not using it for a time, I like to keep it active so it's ready at any time (once a week is probably enough... everything works slower in the fridge). The other day I had a half-gallon jar full to the top with starter because I had two big projects looming (those birthday pancakes and the birthday cake). It's worth planning ahead a little so it's ready to make your dreams come true.

      Try that wheat and see. I did an experiment with some of Mom's once, and found that some of her wheat packed with oxygen would not sprout. Some of the wheat that was even older, but NOT packed with oxygen, actually did sprout. Our wheat that was packed within the last 5 years, packed with oxygen, still does sprout though. We inherited a bunch of super old wheat that won't sprout. I'm wondering if it would be possible to use it in sourdough, as much of the health of the fermenting process comes from the lactobacilli themselves. The Armenian sourdough guy at my Farmer's Market is so passionate about it. A well-known blogger did a post on him once. It is worth reading: He actually uses white flour on most of his breads (!) and still swears by their nutritional value. I am still considering this, but at this point, I still use whole grains exclusively. (That being said, I don't eat whole grain bread without proper preparation like souring.)

    2. Thanks for the info, Nonie! Have you ever fed your start with spelt? Julia mentioned it liking had red wheat... Just curious. :)

    3. I typically feed the mama starter with hard red, but I have used a variety of others, including spelt (and including sprouted wheat, which I believe maximizes the nutrition). Azure mentioned specifically that this starter does well with hard red, followed by hard white. While it's true that it does very well with hard red, I haven't seen it languishing with any grain I've chosen. I imagine the little microbes might evolve depending on what you give it...?

    4. Ok, just to update you, I fed my start last night using oxygen packet packed wheat (all it is labeled as is "wheat", so not sure of the type...). It is growing well! It had a little extra acetic acid on the top this morning, so I was a little worried -- I read somewhere that can signal a sick start -- but she is bubbling away, and the extra fluid has been re-absorbed. I have two jars of start, and both look very happy. So, I'd say it's safe to use for feeds... I doubt I'll ever use it for baking, though.

      One other note: I soured some buckwheat for pancakes the other day, and this start LOVED the buckwheat. It makes me curious about other gluten free grains.

  3. I read the Baking with Natural Yeast book just two weeks ago (cover to cover, during one of Peter's longer naps). It is a great guide.

    I'll be ordering my start right away. Looking forward to... getting started :)

    Thanks for this tutorial Nonie!

  4. So much to learn, and I'm definitely a hands-on kind of learner for this type of thing! We should have a sisters' getaway so Nonie can impart her wisdom.

  5. This sounds so daunting, but I'm eager to try it! Learning how to make sourdough and a couple other key types of bread is one of my top 3 homemaking goals for the year. All you Marshall women amaze me.

    1. I'm not very good yet, Rachel, but my start is healthy. Text me and I'll bring you some! :) We can learn together.