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Starting a Sourdough Starter Part 1

I love sourdough bread. It’s the only bread I’ve been able to make successfully. Whenever I try to make a loaf of regular, white sandwich bread, it always turns out too dry and ends up being ground into breadcrumbs or cut into bread pudding almost immediately. (Any bread experts out there- please help!)  But, my sourdough loaves have been a delight to eat, especially spread with some homemade cultured butter, or honey butter.

Sourdough has a long history, going back to Ancient Egypt, 1500BC. It spread throughout Europe during the middle ages where it was made from rye (most often) or spelt (old variety wheat). It was a food commonly associated the ’49ers during the California Gold Rush, and San Fransico is known for having the world’s best sourdough bread, owing to a bacteria that only thrives in the unique conditions of San Fransico.

I have always made the sourdough sponge from a commercially prepared starter . If you choose to go this route, click here for a quality source of sourdough starters. But, I got to thinking, how would a person go about making their own sourdough starter. Ancient Egyptians from 1500BC couldn’t go online to place an order for sourdough starter. I’d like to try my hand at making my own starter.

After looking at a few different web sites, it seems the method for making your own sourdough starter is very, very simple. There are bacteria and yeasts that are naturally occurring in flour, and the trick is to wake up them up. All you need is water and flour (rye or spelt work well) in equal amounts and a clean container to grow your starter. Add additional water and flour to the starter to “feed” it, still in a ratio of 1:1, on a daily basis. It should be fed at roughly the same time on a daily basis for at least one week.

After a few days, small bubbles should start to appear and the volume will increase. At this point, bacteria is causing gas to expand the volume. After a day or two (or three), this bacteria will stop growing, and the mixture will finally start to grow yeasts. When this happens, there will be small bubbles throughout the mixture. It will start to look foamy, and the starter will start to smell sour. At this point, either keep feeding the starter on the counter to develop the flavor even more, or put it in a container (a mason jar with lid works well) in the refrigerator.

A few tips:

  • Use the freshest flour you can. You can buy wheat berries and grind your flour at home, or you can order freshly ground flour online. I buy freshly-ground sprouted flours here. But, you can use any unbleached, non-bromated flour. King Author Flour is a brand commonly found in most supermarkets.
  • Use filtered water or spring water. Chlorine and contaminants in tap water could effect the fermentation of the flour.
  • Try using water left over from cooking potatoes. It provides more starch, and gives more leavening ability to the starter.
  • Some people use something acidic, like pineapple or orange juice instead of water in the early phase of making the starter. It bypasses the gas expansion stage to get to the yeast proliferation stage faster.

I’ve seen some instructions for starting a sourdough starter use 1 cup of water to 1 cup of flour. However, I’d rather not waste a lot of flour if something goes wrong. So, here’s my plan…

Day One- 2 Tablespoons unsweetened orange juice plus 2 Tablespoons spelt flour, mix well.
Days Two & Three- Add 2 Tablespoons unsweetened orange juice plus 2 Tablespoons spelt flour, mix well.
Day Four – Measure out 1/4 cup of starter, discard the rest. To the remaining 1/4 cup starter, add 1/4 cup potato water and 1/4 cup spelt flour, and mix well.
Days Five through Seven-  Add 1/4 cup starter, add 1/4 cup potato water and 1/4 cup spelt flour, and mix well.

After a week, you can either keep feeding it on the counter, or store the starter in the refrigerator. Make sure the lid is loose (mason jars make convenient storage with an adjustable lid). Over time, a mature starter will develop a darkish liquid that you will need to stir in before using. This is called the “hooch”. It’s actually a form of alcohol, quite unpleasant to drink, but helps to make great sourdough.

I had originally intended to start this project this today. As it turns out, I had an offer this morning that will cause me to be in and out of town over the next two weeks enough that it will have to wait until then. I’d ask for my husband, but cooking and food projects are not his forte.  🙂  I will make a single post of the daily progress of the starter in a few weeks.

About the author

Homesteading Mom

Homesteading Mom is run by Cat Ellis, an herbalist, prepper and aspiring homesteader. Cat is the author of two books, Prepper's Natural Medicine and Prepping for a Pandemic. Cat Ellis also blogs at KetoCat.com, HerbalPrepper.com, and TheOrganicPrepper.com.

  • Chris says:
    Hi Homesteading Mom: I am interested in Sourdough Starters as well--a complete novice. I hope your project is successful. The one time I tried (in the dead of winter in Michigan) it was not. Anyhow, I have a question. Do you feel a sweetened juice is required to get the starter going vs. water? Does it change the taste of the dough? Thanks, and I will be interested to follow your progress.
    • Hi Chris, I'm only now seeing your (and a few other people's messages) after doing some major technical updates to the web site. It was buried in spam. I apologize for the confusion. I've made my own starter a few times now, with and without fruit juice. I don't think a sweetened juice is really necessary. I think it might speed things up a little, but it's not necessary. Right after I made this original post to the blog, we wen't away on a trip out of state. I never came back to take photos of the various stages of making your own sourdough starter! That's something I think needs to be remedied throughout this week. Thank you for your question! Cat
  • Junemarie says:
    Have ever hears of no knead bread recipes, because there are some great tips on how to make in Mother Earth news, called no knead bread in five minutes or less and on you tube there is a lovely video on how to make your own yeast from fruit. Well I hope this info is of some use to you, so blessed be.
    • Hi Junemarie, Yes, I have heard of them. I'm sort of in a tough spot on bread making. I've recently found out that I'm allergic to gluten. So far, if I have limited amounts of sourdough made from sprouted spelt, I've been ok. But anything, of any amount, made with modern wheat and I have aches and pains, migraines, brain fog, heartburn, and sore joints for 1-2 weeks. Most of my experimentation with coconut flour has yielded some tasty quick breads, but not the doughy goodness of plain old bread.

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