Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Place to Start Sourdough is the Starter!

The Mother of all Bread

The thing about Sourdough which makes it unique is the Starter it is made from. Some call this the Mother, the Ferment, the Leaven, and many other terms. There is even a yeast identified called the 'SanFransiscan Lactobacillus' or something...I'd actually love to give my own Starter a name, because it's been around for over 20 years so far, and I know it not as a thing but as a person. I could call it 'Aussie', because it's got a bit of our national character about it. Certainly, it eats, sleeps, multiplies and produces stuff, just like we all do. I've referred to Starter in past articles as a pet which lives in your fridge, and for good reason - if you don't look after it, it will turn on you. Beware. But if it's well fed and housed, it will be an eternal thing which could live longer than you do. Oh, and it also helps you to make great tasting sourdough breads!

I love all these different terms used to describe a Sourdough Leaven. Being an Aussie, I'll just refer to it as 'Starter' from now on, because that's what it does - it 'Starts' the dough on the process of rising, which is essential to making any bread edible.

The Story of My Sourdough Starter

My Starter has been infused with some of the greats over the past 2
0 years, including an Egyptian yeast that's over 2000 years old, a 'Cowboy' yeast (which is what the 'San Fransiscan' I mentioned earlier would have come from), as well as one of the original Australian Sourdough Bakers own ferments, by a guy called John Downes. But in the main, I raised it myself from scratch and fed it regularly. It's lived in many locations with many different bloodlines - I've incorporated the above starters into my own as a kind of 'cultural exchange', and in the process I've discovered it's tough, this baby - you just can't kill it. It seems the older they get, the stronger they become. Even if I haven't fed mine for weeks, it'll come back to life within hours by just feeding it some flour and water.

Of course, I worked this starter commercially for about fifteen year
s - for many years I had it running to over 100 kg a day in terms of volume. It's had every grain known to man in there to feed it, especially wheat, rye, spelt, rice, millet, corn, oats and barley, as well as some fruits too - mainly raisins and sultanas. Nowadays I use it at home when I need to make bread, but versions of it can be found in many bakeries and homes around the world, in cities such as Berlin, Tokyo, New York, Ohio, Sydney, Colorado, Gosford, LA, Melbourne, Dublin, and even Lawson (which really doesn't qualify as a city, but it's here nonetheless).

Feeding and Keeping a Starter - Overview

A Starter can be fed on anything that will ferment - essentially carbohydrate. I've found that a varied diet will change the qualities, textures and flavo
urs the Starter produces in the breads you make. If consistentcy is desired, feed it the same thing all the time. It will cope. However, a varied diet breeds different microbiologies, and I believe variation breeds resilience too. That's why mine has continued to thrive - it has had various conditions throughout its life, and thus has become strong despite changes, rather than because of sameness. The same could be said for people - the most successful have had a variety of inputs and locations, and thus they thrive and are strong.

A lot of people struggle to establish a starter. Many others simply can't keep them going for very long. It has to be said that in the early stages, starter requires committment, time and patience. For those without an abundance of these things, I will soon be manufacturing a dried version of my own starter,which for many people will be a better and easier option from a practical point of view. But for those who want to give it a go, read on as I go into detail.

If you would like to read more about Sourdough Starter, as well as recipes and other Tips and Tricks, have a look at my website at:
Happy Baking!

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