We have been grinding grains since the Stone Age. There is evidence of the fermentation of wheat that is thousands of years old found all over the globe. Sourdough is woven into the fiber of our history as humans on this planet. Wheat is the very foundation that we build our first cities on. We survived and thrived because of this grain. It is a perfect powerhouse of nutrition when stored as a whole kernel and freshly milled and fermented. So what has changed? Why has wheat gotten such a bad rap? And why are so many people finding their way back to this old world way of baking and eating bread?
With the advancements of modern agriculture, and the need to feed more people, wheat has changed. In the US particularly, the wheat that is grown is incredibly different that what our ancestors used to make their bread. The way we grow it, the way we process it and the way we eat it in fact is all different. We've hybridized and genetically modified strains of wheat so that they will grow in mass with our issues, and can be processed easier with a shorter growth period. We stripped all of the vital nutrients out of the grain so that it looked better in a loaf and stored better on the shelf. The wheat industry is the only food in the US that is allowed to be prayed with glyphosate right up until the day of harvest. Using the pesticide before harvest helps dry the grain more evenly and kills any weed that might end up in the harvest. This is terrifying. Non-organic wheat is not only just a starchy filler with no nutritional value, its also chock full of poison. With inflammation and childhood auto-immune diseases on the rise, no wonder it was easy to call wheat the bad guy!
Yeasted bread is not the same and fermented bread. Our bodies need the help of the army of microbes that breakdown the carbohydrates in the wheat, making it easier to digest. Yeasted breeds are missing this process, making it even harder for our bodies to digest. Most people that find themselves to be sensitive to gluten will find that if they eat a bread that is made with an heirloom or heritage variety of wheat and is properly fermented, they can eat it! Sourdough for the win!
So how do we get back to our roots? Fortunately in the US there is a revolution brewing. A sourdough revolution! More farmers are transitioning away from commercial wheat and back to our ancient varieties. More people are learning about sourdough and even baking their own bread at home. This is so exciting! We need to take our diets out of the hands of big corporations and bring it back to our own kitchens. Keeping a sourdough starter alive is easy. Anyone can do it. Learning how to bake with sourdough is now a breeze with how many resources are out there now! Theres still a bit of a learning curve, but really, its so worth learning the process. Here's a few of my favorite places to find recipes and tips on sourdough:
Before you begin baking sourdough bread, you’ll need a sourdough starter.
A sourdough starter is a living culture made from flour and water. Some starters have been kept in the same family for generations. Every starter has its own story. Mine came from a group of sourdough connoisseurs in the Applegate. One of them had traveled to Europe collecting starter from willing bakers all over the continent. They brought that home and have since been keeping it alive for the past 20 years. I was lucky enough to have been gifted a portion of this starter.
Your starter too will have its own story.
You must take care of it, like a little bubbly baby. It must be fed to stay alive with regular feedings of flour and water.
Put your freeze-dried starter into a clean mason glass jar.ADD ONE TSP of ORGANIC flour (your choice of flour, but know that they all behave a little differently!) and ONE TSP FILTERED WATER. Use a piece of fabric and lid ring close. This allows your starter to breathe and the wild yeast culture to multiply. Now you should have approximately 15 ml in total volume. Leave on you counter to culture.
In 12-24 hours feed the starter in equal parts. ADD ONE TBS FLOUR and ADD ONE TBS WATER. Mix well and leave on counter again for 12-24 hours. Now you have 45 ml total (3 TBS).
This is when you'll want to start using a scale. Most bread recipes will require you have one any way, so if you don't have one, get one!
IMPORTANT to just maintain 1:1:1 ratio of feeding starter:flour:water
You need to know the weight of the container of you starter, so use the same type of glass and weigh and tare your scale, or transfer you starter into a fresh glass after taring the glass.
ADD EQUAL PARTS WATER AND FLOUR. Mix and leave again on counter. After a couple hours you should start to finally see some activity. After 12-24 hours you want to feed your starter again. This time you'll have to discard some of it. This part, you get to decide. How much bread do you plan on baking on a weekly/daily bases?
Discard at least 1/2 - 2/3 of your starter, weigh and add equal parts flour and water.
You can see how keeping it all will turn into a large volume very quickly! There are TONS of great "discard" recipes!
BY DAY 4 of feeding equal parts flour and water, you should have a fairly active starter. If you don't, that's ok! Depending on different conditions like temperature and elevation, you starter may take a little longer to fully come to life!
This jar is now your mother starter. You can pull starter from here to feed separately in another jar for a recipe (called levain), or you can feed this jar directly and make sure to leave some behind to keep after using.
You will leave your starter on the counter, feeding consistently until you have an active starter. Then, you can keep in the fridge, or counter and feed regularly. But for now, keep a close eye on it and watch for activity, a rise and fall, large bubbles to small bubbles. Notice the smell and how it changes from yeasty and beer-like, to acidic and alcohol-like with EVERY feeding (when active).
Your stater is ready to use when it has been fed, becomes bubbly and doubles in size.
This can take anywhere from 2-12 hours or more depending on temperature (70-75) and the condition of your starter. Be patient!
Float Test: If you’re still unsure whether it’s ready to use drop a small amount into a glass of water. Do this when the starter is a peak height before it collapses. If it floats to the top it’s ready to use. If it sinks, your starter should be fed again.
If you only bake a few times a month, keep your starter in the fridge and feed it once a week. If you’re an avid baker, store your starter at room temperature and feed it at least once a day. OR (like I do) some combination of the two. I keep mine in the fridge Saturday through Tuesday morning. I feed it when I take it out, and then wait 12 hours, feed again, and in a few hours its ready to use. What is left behind, I feed again, leave on counter and feed again until I have the correct volume for a second bake for the week. After this use, what is left behind is stored in the fridge to be taken out again the following Tuesday. Im constantly putting my starter into a new fresh clean jar when storing.