Look past the picture of the lovely loaf in the foreground to that of the humble jar in the background. That jar is filled with millions of tiny yeast, the workhorses of so many beautiful loaves of sourdough bread, pancakes and waffles. After yesterday's post on Sourdough pancakes, I received many wistful comments from readers who aren't as lucky as me and don't know anyone from which to receive some starter, or who once had a starter that has since died. Don't despair, gentle readers. It is easy to make your own!
I have had luck with whole wheat sourdough starters and rye sourdough starters. To get started, all you need is a jug of distilled water, some flour, a scale, and a quart sized mason jar.
How-to make a Rye (or Whole-Wheat) Sourdough starter
(I will give the directions for making a rye sourdough starter, if you would like to make whole wheat starter, merely use whole wheat flour instead of the rye flour, but don't interchange the whole wheat and the rye. You must keep them separate and have two different starters if you want to do both.)
Day 1: Place 4 oz. rye flour and 4 oz. distilled water in your quart sized mason jar. Stir, place lid on and screw on. Leave on the counter for 24 hours.
Day 2: You may notice some activity, a little bubbling, a slightly ripe smell, or you may not. Regardless, remove half of the starter from yesterday and throw out. Add to the jar another 4 oz. rye flour and 4 oz. distilled water. Stir, cap, and seal. Leave on the counter 24 hours.
Day 3: You will probably see activity and notice a slightly ripe smell to your starter by now. If not, don't worry! Again, throw out half of the starter from yesterday, add to the jar another 4 oz. rye flour and 4 oz. of distilled water. Stir, cap and seal. Leave on the counter.
Keep feeding it this way until you can see the bubbles and activity forming about 6-8 hours after feeding. This may take a few weeks. Be patient! Once the yeast are busy and bubbling about 6-8 hours after feeding, the yeast are strong enough to use in recipes. After using the starter in a recipe, feed it again the 4 oz. rye flour and 4 oz. distilled water. Now however, you may keep it in the refrigerator if you are not using it every day. You will need to feed it about once a week if you are refrigerating it (and after every time you use it). If you haven't used it, throw out half the starter and feed it 4 oz. of rye flour and 4 oz. distilled water. If you have used it, don't throw any extra out, just feed it the 4 oz. of rye flour and 4 oz. of distilled water.
See, it is not difficult to make your own starter, it just takes a little baby-sitting. Think of your yeast as your "pets" as my friend Rich does, and it will be easier to remember to feed them! Below you can see my bubbly rye starter, about 12 hours after feeding, behind the jar of the show-off potato flour yeast. Have fun, and when you try it, be sure and leave a comment letting me know!