Sourdough Starters and Mothers

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Posted by Donna

Nurturing Mothers
We're all about families here at The Daily Tiffin. Mothers and fathers nurturing their family, and families caring for each other. For thousands of years, Mother
was the center of the household unit. While there are many types of families today, there's one thing that keeps them going - a nurturing parent, grandparent, siblings, aunties and so on, that feeds, sustains and cares for the family.

Today, I want to talk about another Mother. One who has been around for what seems like forever. She's been my mother for many, many years, and maybe even your mother, and your neighbor's mother too. This Mother is a real world traveler and has been part of cultures that we can't even imagine. This Mother really gets around!
Of course, I'm not talking about your biological Mother. I'm, talking about "Mother Sourdough". It's hard to tell how many families she's fed over the years. We could even be related in a spiritual sourdough sort of way!

Years ago, while I was still in my teens, I got this notion that I wanted to be independent. Sound familiar? I wanted to take care of myself, get back to nature, and create something that I could call my own. Too young to marry and start a family of my own, I learned that I could still create a living being, or substance as you will, that needed to be fed and cared for much like an infant. I picked up a new book (1970) called, Sourdough Jack's Cookery and Other Things by Jack Mabee. You can still find it today on Amazon or eBay. This book started a love affair with all things sourdough!

A Living Organism!
Keep in mind, I was a teenager, living at home with my parents who were not into that sort of "hippie stuff" back then. I made my starter - a bubbly, sour and yeasty smelling sourdough concoction. Sound yummy? It will when you discover all the delicious baked goods I made from this humble sourdough "Mother". I made sourdough pancakes, muffins, coffeecakes, and sourdough bread kneaded by hand. I kept my sour smelling mess in the fridge with strict instructions to my bewildered family, "DON"T TOUCH, Living Organism!" I called him Herman. Yes, he had a name, and it didn't matter to me that he was "THE MOTHER". Dad soon discovered that icky bucket of Herman in the fridge was like a pot of gold to his stomach! He ate everything - and I don't mean just the delicious creations I churned out. I mean the rejects, flops, the dropped-on-the-floor-five-second-rule yucky stuff too!

Over the next 30 years (please don't do the math!) I used the same starter for my family. (OK, I have to fess up here. I did let Herman die, but only once. I asked forgiveness, created him all over again, and life went on.) No matter where we lived, we always saw the bucket of sour and bubbly Herman in the back of the fridge. Then we opened a bakery and Herman needed to grow up fast. We fed him really well until he grew big enough to fill four, 5 gallon buckets at a time. We were always rotating them, never wanting to let Herman get too skinny and die again. This went on until 2004 when we closed the bakery and finally let Herman go. He served us well all those years, but it was his time to rest in peace.

The Supposed Story Of Sourdough
There are stories of sourdough "Mothers" living for 150 years, being shared one cup at a time and keeping the family going, generation after generation. Wagon trains crossing the country in search of gold and a better life, made sure they always had a sourdough "Mother" sponge aboard. San Francisco Sourdough Bread is probably one of the most famous breads made with sourdough. Friendship starter is another term used by friends as they shared a crock of the starter with a new bride or neighbor. A little card with recipes and wishes for a happy life is attached with a ribbon.

Sourdough (or natural leaven) has been around for a very long time. Before yeast was sold in little packets, it was made with leftover potato water and flour. Some bakers use scalded milk before mixing. Others use a variety of flours, such as whole wheat or rye. Wild yeast can also be used. Different ingredients will change the taste of the sourdough, in turn imparting unique flavors to your baked goods. You can also skip the entire conception part and buy Vermont's King Arthur's classic Sourdough Starter and then maintain it.

There are plenty of recipes out there, many made from scratch, but this is one of the easiest to make and care for. Experiment!

Homemade Sourdough Starter Recipe

* 2 cups Unbleached King Arthur Flour, or similar all-purpose flour
* 1 pk Active Dry Yeast (Again, play around with potato water, scalded milk, wild yeast.)
* 1 Tbsp sugar (optional)
* 2 cups (more or less) lukewarm spring water.


* Use a plastic container or a crock with a lid.
* Make sure it is double the size of your beginner as it will rise and fall, giving off gases. This is normal.
* Never use metal containers or spoons. A chemical reaction will take place and ruin the process.
* Mix Flour, yeast and sugar in container.
* Add enough water to make a pancake batter-like consistency.
* Place the cover on top, but don't seal it.
* Set it in a warm place for 24 hours or until bubbly and yeasty smelling.
* It will have risen during this time, so stir it down, cover and place in refrigerator.

Care and Feeding
Now that you've created a life, you need to feed and nurture it. Some bakers give their sourdough a name, although that's really not necessary.(Remember Herman?) At this point it's still a baby and needs to be cared for. After a day or two when it smells sour and tangy, cover and put it in the refrigerator. As it gets older, it will soon be called "Mother" and has to be replenished each time you use "her". If you use 1 cup of starter, then you need to put 1 cup back. Replace with 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup water, mix in well, let her sit out for a while, cover and put her back in the refrigerator. Every now and then, add some potato water to help her along. You must remember to feed her often or she will get moldy and die. :-(

Sourdough Baked Goods
So, what can you make with this messy, sour-smelling slimy goop? Plenty! Some good suggestions are; sourdough bread, sourdough carrot cake, pancakes, bagels, coffeecake and muffins, quick breads, brownies, buttermilk biscuits, cinnamon rolls and, well, you get the picture. Just about anything that calls for leavening can be substituted with sourdough and with a little tweaking, turn out delicious baked goods.

This Sourdough Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting is from my own collection. I've literally made a thousand or more of these cakes over the years. For obvious reasons, I highly recommend it!

The Sourdough Home
has a number of delicious recipes for breads, muffins, sweets, rolls and more, some with photos, tutorials and classes.

The Fresh Loaf
is a community for amateur artisan bakers and bread enthusiasts.

King Arthur Flour has an amazingly easy Rustic Sourdough Bread Recipe. Full of tips and photos, I love this website!

Also from King Arthur Flour comes a Chocolate Sourdough Cake! I haven't made this one yet, but it's next on my list!

Joy The Baker shares her recipe for Sourdough Pancakes.

The Kitchn from Apartment Therapy has an alternative Sourdough Starter for you to try.

Remember to have fun with your sourdough. Take it out of the fridge once in a while and have a bakery play day with your kids. You'll make memories they'll never forget!

written by Donna Diegel

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My sourdough waves to yours from the depths of my fridge!
Sourdough is really something that should be shared - I got mine from a friend and will be passing it on when needed. It has so far provided me with many a yummy meal.

I have noticed that mine seems to thrive better when I feed it wholemeal flour. Have you noticed the same or is it just my imagination?


February 5, 2009 at 7:07:00 PM GMT+1  

You had a mother named Herman?
Bless your heart!
My starter is named Kudzu. It does fine, but she is a potato and sugar starter and I would love to turn it into a thick bubbly flour sponge. I think today I will try cloneing her with flour. Wish us luck. I may end up with octuplets or something.
Love the recipes!

February 8, 2009 at 4:18:00 PM GMT+1  

Very interesting article Donna. Thanks for sharing your dough starter recipe. I will have to try it as we sure are a bread loving family.

Liliana said...
February 9, 2009 at 10:32:00 PM GMT+1  

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