New Page 3
Handling the Sourdough Starter
By Lee Henry
Alias Ole Leather
My sourdough is
at least 72 years old at the time of this writing in the year of 2003. I have
kept it alive since I was given “A Start from a Lady in Yuma Arizona some 25
years ago. The story she told to me was that it had been given to her by her
mother whom received her start from a gold miner from California that had gotten
his starter from an ole’ cook in San Francisco in or around 1931. They're not
sure but it may have been brought over on one of the sailing ships. Who knows
how old it may be. I guess it could be a hundred years or so. I know I was so
excited to acquire a starter that had been nurtured, babied, fed, and constantly
looked after for all those years, I made up my mind that I would keep the legacy
going as long as I was alive. None of my kids are interested in the nostalgia
and the mystic life of Sourdough. I just imagine this starter will fall by the
wayside or be poured down a sink hole when I take that last ride into Blue
Canyon that leads to the Chuckwagon there at the great round up in the sky.
Over the years
many folks have requested a start for themselves. I have no idea how many starts
I used to give out. But most was taken from my ole’
cracked 1-gallon crock (Ha! Mike Scovel patched it by wrapping it some years back
with no less than first aid gauze and you guessed it Sourdough Starter) located
on the business end of my working 1898 Studebaker Chuckwagon.
So why would a
guy want to write a story or (instructions?) On, How to take care of your
Sourdough Starter? Well every time I give a start to someone I have to tell them
how to take care of it. There is a little more to it than just “ Feed it and
First here are a couple of ole’
recipes you can start your own sourdough. Be reminded you must have a
1-Gallon Crock, (or larger), All Purpose Flour, and White Sugar.
Sourdough Starter Recipe
Wash wooden keg and add 2 sliced
up Irish potatoes; 4 cups flour; and plenty water to make medium thick batter; ½
cup black strap molasses; dash of salt.
Set in sun during the day, cover
with blankets at night. Keep the keg warm even if you have to sleep with it. In
2-3 days sourdough starts workin good.
Now pour the whole thing out,
keg is seasoned so don’t wash it.
Add fresh ingredients as before,
probably take 4-5 days for batch to ferment. Pay close attention. Keep keg warm
at nite. Never clean keg again.
Note: When usin the sourdough be
sure to replace what you used with flour, water, salt and a little black strap.
Start this a-cople of weeks afor
the trail drive.
From Ben Jack’s Original Recipe Book 1897
Sliced Potato Sourdough Starter
2 raw potatoes sliced in bottom
of a 2 gal crock jar
1 yeast cake, diluted in 2 cups
2 TBSP sugar
1 cup Flour
Beat well. It’s not necessary
to remove any flour lumps as they will dissolve before you are ready to use the
Starter. Cover with a cloth (caution do not cover tightly). Place Sourdough
Crock on the shelf in a warm spot free from draughts. This starter will be
bubbling in about 72 hours.
Long Will It Take?
The 3rd day the
Sourdough Starter can be used, providing it has started working. But it is
better to wait for a couple more days. Add extra fuel each day for the
Sourdough to work on – a spoonful of sugar along with a couple spoonfuls of
flour. Add warm water if batter is too thick. Mix Well. Cover. Put in warm
spot to work more.
In about a week the Starter
should be filled with a million bubbles. Looks like sour cream-smells like sour
cream, but it has become a rich luscious Sourdough Starter.
If you wait 2 weeks the
Sourdough Starter will gain more flavor. Waiting this extra time gives extra
flavor, not to be compared with any other batter. By the 3rd week,
it will be bubbling so hard that the Starter will be trying to climb over the
top of the Crock. It is now a rich creamy batter honeycombed with bubbles.
With a wooden spoon,
stir the Starter smooth, and remember, Sourdough loves to be stirred. Dip out
the slices of potato in the bottom making sure you get them all because there is
nothing worse than finding lumps in your Sourdough.
Always use a wooden spoon, never
metal. A metal spoon will contaminate your Sourdough.
If batter seems stiff and heavy
add more water—enough to make a rich, thick creamy sponge. It is best to have
the batter thicker as it will thin down while working overnight.
If the Starter is too thin,
throw in extra flour very, very slowly as to make a smooth creamy batter.
Cover. Let the Starter “work”
in a warm place, free from draughts.
Allow plenty of room for
expansion as Sourdough, when “working”, can more than double in volume. Keep
Sourdough Starter at constant room temperature. Extreme cold will cause the
Sourdough to go “flat”. Sudden heat will cause the Sourdough to begin to “work”
and expand very quickly.
Now that you have yourself a start how do I keep
The following is the direct results
of the many ways I have learned to take care of my starter.
The one thing you must remember is
that, “The Sourdough won’t spoil”. It will go flat and eventually die. It must
be fed “FLOUR, SUGAR and WARM WATER”.
To start with the minimum size
crock jar would be 1 Gallon anything less and you won’t have enough for a batch
of biscuits. (I have a 5, 7, and 2-10 gallon crocks that I use on varies
occasions) You won’t be making a full gallon of starter you will only use
somewhere between ½ and ¾ of the container as it needs room to bubble, boil,
ferment, and age.
I remember one
cold day in the fall I was planning to cook up 3 or 4 dozen sourdough biscuits
the next mornin’ fer breakfast, so I brought my crock of starter into the
kitchen where it would be nice and warm and I knew the sourdough would work off
nicely and it would be a nice silky smooth sponge to use in the biscuits. I
loaded in the flour, sugar and water stirred it up, threw the cloth over the top
and went to bed. I woke up the next morning to find that not only had it worked
off to a silky smooth batter but it had bubbled it’s self over the top of the
crock, across the cabinet, down the front of all the drawers and onto the
kitchen carpet. What a mess. My wife explained very carefully to me that if I
ever left the sourdough over night unattended on her kitchen cabinets I would
have to go to the hospital to have the sourdough removed from where the sun
never shines. So let me give you a precaution here. Since no one can predict how
fast, how well, or how much the sourdough is going to work. “Put it in the kitchen
sink if you are going work up a batch over night” If it bubbles over the top a
least you only have to clean up the sink, Wife is happier also.
Cranking up your
Feed it, add
enough flour sugar and water to ¾ fill the crock. (The rule of thumb being 1 cup
flour 1 cup warm water and 1tsp sugar.) Stir it as best you can the first time
it will look lumpy don’t worry about it here as it will become smooth as it
works off. Stir it with your wooden spoon (nothing metal is allowed in the crock
it will give a metal taste to it and ruin the starter.) Rinse the wooden spoon
off each time as dried starter is like concrete and is very difficult to clean
off. Next set it in a fairly warm location cover the top with a cloth ,
something like cheese cloth.. In about 1 hour take the cloth off, look to see if
it has started to bubble. It has and that is good. Now with the wooden spoon
stir it vigorously, (It loves to be stirred) Cover it again then again, in
about an hour check it and stir again. The sponge should be working very nicely
now. If you are going to use it the next morning I like to take a string and tie
it around the cloth at the top of the crock. This will let it breath and keep it
from coming completely out of the crock over night without too much mess in the
morning remove the cover, looking inside the sponge will be solid bubbles. With
your spoon stir it until it is smooth. Here with your spoon lift a little out
and let it run off the end, it should be a little thicker than buttermilk but
not as thick as say a pancake batter. If the sponge is too thick add a little
warm water, If it is to thin add small amounts of flour, stirring continually too
much too soon will cause lumps in the starter and at this point it would ruin the
mornin biscuits. As time goes along and you work with the sponge you will learn
how to control the consistency of it.
Most of the
time in a warm climate the freshly fed starter will need about 10 hours to work
and become smooth enough to use.
Your not going to use the starter for a week!
Add the normal amount
ingredients and stir it. Let the sponge work for 2 hours then cover the mouth of
the crock with your cloth and tie it down with your string, Sit the crock in a
regular dinner plate put it in the refrigerator. It will keep about 10 to 12
days. This time when you take it out it will have made about 1 inch of “Whey”
This is what the Chuckwagon cooks would drink when on the trail and there was no
whiskey to be had. You can taste it or Me, I have had me a right smart shot of
it. I guess it would be better then nothing if you had been on the cattle trail
for a month or so But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t compare to a drink of real
Anyway don’t I repeat DON”T pour
it off, stir it back into the sponge. This is when the starter really gets the
best flavor. After you have stirred till its smooth you will need to dip out
about 2 cups of the sponge to make room to feed it and to get it out of being
Here’s what you
do. The crock is very cold so in a container that is large enough for it to
sit in and at least deep enough to cover the bottom ½ of the crock with warm
water gently place the crock in the tub and fill it with enough warm water to
cover the bottom ½ to ¾ of the crock. Now stir in 1-cup flour, ¼ cup sugar and
1 cup of warm water. (No that’s not an error we need the extra sugar here to
revive the dormant sponge.) Stir it until it’s smooth. Now add more hot
water to the tub as we need to warm up that cold crock. Now add 1 cup flour 1
tsp. sugar 1 cup warm water and stir vigorously again. Now just lay your cloth
top over the crock and let it set. In about 30 minuets. Replace the now cool
water in the tub with more warm water. Stir the sponge again. Let it rest this
time for 1 hour. Again replace the water in the tub with warm water. This time
look at the sponge it should have started to make small bubbles, Stir it again
and let it work for about 3 hours. By this time the sponge should be really
working. “Hey what if it isn’t? Get your self a small package of Fleischmann’s
dry yeast completely dissolve it in a ½ cup of warm water and stir it in.
For those of you who want to
keep with the old ways simply slice up 2 Irish potatoes and stir them into the
sponge. In 2 or 3 days the sponge again will be working, In 4 days take your
wooden spoon and fish out the potatoes and discard them. One of those puppies in
your biscuit might make a cowboy question the cook.
Lets say you're not going to use the
starter for a month or two.
This is a real tricky situation,
If you're not careful you can lose your starter here. I also need to prepare you
in advance that what you see in the crock at the end of 2 months will not be for
the light hearted. I suggest that you get yourself another crock to set this
test batch off in so as not to lose your starter in case you decide not to
revive it after a couple of months. I have kept one for these in my refrigerator
for over 6 month and revived it. So it can be done if you give it enough food to
live on. Here we go!
From your original starter take
2 cups of starter and pour into the new crock. Now add 3 cups flour, ½ cup sugar
and 1 cup cool water. Stir this up. It should become like a dough ball. At this
point add 1 cup flour, 1-tsp sugar, 1 cup cool water stir it up again. The
sponge should start to become a little thinner. Here is the tricky part start
adding warm water about ½ cup at a time until the sponge becomes stiff but still
able to stir it. It is very hard to explain this consistency I would compare it
to plaster mud just before you put it on a wall.
Take a cheese cloth
and fold it double , laying this over the opening of the crock ,using a good
heavy string securely tie the cheese cloth down. Now you can set the Crock in
that dinner plate and put it in the refrigerator. A place it won’t be disturbed.
2 Months have passed
Have ready to use
before you open the crock of starter;
2 wooden spoons, 2 glass soup
bowls, a garbage can or sack nearby, your gona need it!
The best place to work is the
kitchen sink that is if your wife is gone.
Set the crock in the sink and
remove the cheese cloth. When you look inside don’t run it will be OK. Your
going to see a crusty top with some mold on it, that’s OK.
wooden spoon gently around the edge push the crust down just enough to break it
loose as you must remove and discard it with out letting too much of the crust
drop into the whey underneath. Once this is removed gently pour off the whey
into one of the soup bowls. Set it aside as you are going to add some of it back
to the sponge. Set the crock back into the sink, now in the bottom you will see
a beautiful white sponge , it will be about the consistency of biscuit dough.
With both spoons remove as much of the sponge as you can careful not to get
anything in it from the side of the crock. Put this into the other bowl and set
it aside. You will need at least 1 cup of the sponge, 2 if you can get it.
Now you need to
clean up the crock. This is best done by rinsing out as much of the sourdough as
you can and then fill the crock to the brim with warm water and let set for
about thirty minutes, It’s much easer to clean out after it’s had time to soften
up. Never use soap in the crock just use hot water.
Now that the
crock is clean dump the sponge into it, add 1 cup warm water and stir until it
is smooth. Carefully now off the top of the bowl of whey scoop 4 or 5 tbs. And
stir this into the sponge. It’s ready to come alive and go to work for you. Add
2 cups flour ¼ cup sugar 2 cups warm water. Stir it up cover it, set it in a
warm place and in about an hour check it and stir it. I’m sure it’s starting to
work. from here you will treat it is a working sponge. Just like the start we
used in the beginning.
Good luck I
hope you will be the one to keep this original Sourdough Alive and well always
remember, “ Feed it and keep alive”
Here are a few
For quick reference
- Remember—Sourdough will
not spoil! It is wild yeast that ferments. It does demand attention to
keep it working, however.
- Should your Starter
separate, with the “whey” coming to the top, just add flour and stir to a
smooth batter again.
- When ready to use your
Starter, dip what you need for your recipe out of the Sourdough Crock and
into you mixing bowl (not a metal one). Do not mix your recipe in the
Sourdough Crock or you won’t have any Starter left to build a new supply.
- Always leave about 1 cup
of Starter to build with. If you accidentally use all of your Starter,
don’t panic. Just simply scrape down the sides of your Crock, add 1 cup
flour, 1 cup warm water, 1 tsp sugar and 1 yeast cake. There will be enough
to start the Sourdough to working again. Remember to stir until smooth.
- Never try to extend your
Starter by adding flour the same day you are mixing it to bake-you will get
- The night before you need
to use your Starter, add 1 cup flour, 1 cup warm water and 1 tsp sugar to
build up the quantity of Starter. This allows the Sourdough to work at
least 10 hours before baking, removing most of the starch and leaving a
protein food. For larger amounts of Sourdough Starter simply add your fuel
in multiples of 1 cup flour, 1 cup warm water and 1 tsp sugar.
- Sugar is used to make the
Sourdough work, not as a sweetener. Rule of thumb: for every cup of flour
you add to your starter, add 1 tsp of sugar.
- Soda is a leavening
agent. Always add the soda at the very last minute before baking so that
the air remains in your batter. You will bake fluffy, light Sourdoughs.
- Take a little care when
storing your Sourdough Starter. Never seal your Sourdough Crock. Keep it
loosely covered with a heavy cloth. Sourdough needs to breathe and expand.
Sealed in a jar, without room for expansion, it could “explode” all over
your kitchen ceiling. Never keep Sourdough in a tight container.
If your Starter
is not in constant use, you may store it in the refrigerator or cooler. It will
become “dormant” and the whey will rise to the top. Don’t remove this when you
are ready to use the Starter, but rather, stir it back in. The Starter will
become extra delicious. Remember to take your Starter out of the refrigerator
at least one day before you are ready to use it to get the Sourdough working
again. Add flour, warm water and sugar and keep warm.
Sourdough Sunday Cherry Cobbler
|1 cup flour
|1/2 cup brown sugar
|2 cups sugar
|1/2 tsp. cinnamon
|1/2 cup butter
|1/2 cup pecans, chopped
|1/2 cup sourdough starter
|1 can water packed pitted
Mix well and cook over live
coals until the juice becomes thick. Set aside a few minutes but keep warm
while mixing the remainder of the ingredients. Combine the remaining flour,
sugar and cinnamon, cut in butter. Stir in pecans and starter. Spoon this
over the top of the cherries and place the Dutch oven back in coals. Cover,
place hot coals on lid and let bake. After the top begins to brown slightly,
lift lid and with a sharp knife punch a few holes in the top. This will
let the cherry juice bubble up through the holes enough to make the cobbler more
attractive. After the top has reached a golden brown, sprinkle about 3
tbsp. sugar over the top and place the lid back on for about 1 minute, then
remove the Dutch from the coals. Serve hot!