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Sourdough Starters

What is a sourdough starter? It's a mixture of flour, water and a yeast culture containing literally millions of lactobacilli. It acts as a leavening and flavoring agent that is used to make great bread, pancakes, waffles and biscuits. It's generally kept in a stoneware crock or plastic container and is kept refrigerated between uses. On the night before you want to make bread or pancakes, you take a cup of the starter from the crock, add more water and flour, stir, and then let the mixture sit in a warm place. The next morning (with the mixture frothy and infused with a multitude of liberated carbon dioxide bubbles), you put one cup of the mix back in the starter pot, and use the rest to make your bread product. What you get will depend on the unique makeup of your starter, the ingredients you add and the type of flour you use. One thing is sure: the flavor and texture will be fantastic!

Starters have been around since the pyramids in Egypt were being built. During the nineteenth century, settlers felt undernourished unless they had an adequate supply biscuits and bread. The starter was required to make the bread rise. Thus the starter pot was a necessary part of each cook's larder as it made it possible to make bread while on the trail west. The term "sourdough" arose to describe the frontier cook who religiously guarded his sourdough starter and used it to make the daily bread. Starters have a history; we'll be looking for personal accounts from the wagon trains and settlers and ranchers to share with our Armchair Worlders.

Some of the best breads and pancakes you probably have ever had were probably made using a starter. There is a story in Los Angeles about a baker who made the best pumpernickel bread in the city. No one could copy it because his starter was unique. As the story goes (which might be an urban myth) he used to lock the starter in a safe each night to protect it - because all you needed to do to copy the taste of his bread was to get some of his starter. The other ingredients you could figure out. What you couldn't do is copy the exact makeup of his starter - and thus reproduce the taste of his bread.

One of our Armchair World staff has been making starter breads and pancakes for a number of years. One of his starters is over 15 years old. This is a youngster in the starter world. We've heard of starters over 100 years old. This is possible since if the starter is kept cold (it can even be frozen - though I don't recommend it) and "rejuvenated" occasionally. Iit is theoretically possible to "keep it alive" for numerous generations. The starter could very well be the bonsai tree of the food world.

You might like to try the recipe for Amish Friendship Bread. It requires a starter, takes several days to make, but the taste is well worth it.

So how does one get a starter? The first way is to get a friend who has a starter going to give you a cup. The second way is to get a packaged sourdough starter that you "activate" with water and flour in your own home. We've looked around and found an excellent sourdough starter; it's reasonably priced and we can send it to you. We've also found two excellent book on sourdough baking. These contain all the information you need to make some of the most delicious breads, pancakes and muffins you've ever tasted.

Try Gary's Silver Dollar Pancake Recipe

Order your sourdough starter, sourdough baking books and accessories from us.

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