Sourdough Stories: Starters

Sourdough is a yeasty starter for leavening hotcakes, waffles, muffins, bread and even cakes.  It was the traditional staple food of the old timers who wandered the North country around the turn of the century in search of Gold and who lived in the wilderness trapping furs during the winter.  These hardy miners, trappers and other men who braved the Alaskan frontier are called “Sourdoughs” after the starter they carried – either in a pouch under their shirt so it would not freeze or as a ball of thick dough in a depression at the top of the flour sack in their dog sled.

Sourdough starter becomes more active and flavorful if it is used daily or every other day.  It should be stored in the refrigerator if not being used often.  Sitting at room temperature for over three days without daily additions of flour and water can cause the starter to become too sour, strong flavored or develop a pinkish orange skin of mold.  This should be carefully dipped off and discarded.  At least one cup of starter should be stored in a clean pint glass jar or plastic container in the refrigerator for a backup starter as well as a like amount in a crockery sourdough pot with lid for regular use.  Sourdough starter should never be stored or mixed in a metal bowl or mixed with a metal spoon.  Always use a rubber scraper or wooden spoon.  A layer of gray liquid may separate from the batter to the top when the starter is stored for 2 weeks or more.  This should be stirred back into the batter when you add flour and warm water to set the sponge for use the next day.  When stored for extended periods without weekly use, Sourdough should be fed at least once a month.  Take the starter out of the refrigerator and add equal parts flour and water.  Let sit at room temperature until smooth and bubbles form, at least 6-8 hours then return to refrigerator.  This should be done with your backup starter as well, keeping only 1 cup in a small container.
You can start your own starter if you do not have access to an established one.

Sourdough Starter
2 c. flour
2 c. warm water
1 pkg. dry yeast

Dissolve yeast in ¼ c. warm water.  Add the remaining water and flour and mix well.  Place in glass, ceramic or crock with loose fitting lid which has ample room for expansion (double).  Place in warm place for at least 2 days until becomes bubbly.  

Set aside 1 cup of the starter in a covered sterilized jar in the refrigerator (backup).  Use a portion of the remainder in your sourdough pot for a recipe or that evening set the sponge with s cups flour and 1 ½ cups warm water.  Beat briskly until smooth and place in warm spot overnight (I use top of refrigerator).  Always leave at least ½ cup in the pot with which to set the sponge for the next use.  The thickness and amount of the sponge can be adjusted to the best consistency and amount needed for recipe being prepared the next day.  For waffles the sponge should be a fairly thick yet pourable batter (equal parts flour and water is too thin).  As the starter ages, it will become more active and may over flow the pot if there is not adequate room left for rising of the sponge.  I set the pot in a shallow bowl or on a plate as a precaution.

Carol Ross of Big Bear B&B is a long-time Innkeeper in Alaska, and a member of the Anchorage Alaska Bed & Breakfast Association. In the next part of this series, she will share her famous recipes using sourdough starter.

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