Starter from scratch success… finally!

Starter from scratch success… finally!

So in a previous blog entry, I copied over a journal I was keeping about trying to start a starter from scratch. Don’t read it, it’s not worth it. 

The long and short of it is:  though I have about a decade of experience baking with sourdough and maintaining a starter, I’d never started a culture from scratch. Oh, I’d tried, but always gave up and bought some or acquired from friends, etc.

Now, I’ve finally done it! I couldn’t be more pleased either. There was some trial and error with flours and water quality issues. It took several failures over the course of about a month, but I learned some things about the process that might be helpful to others with my sort of backwards experience leading me astray.

1.  Use pineapple juice, instead of water, for the first few days. This really helps speed things up. There’s plenty of discussion about it on this forum and elsewhere, so I’ll leave it at that.

2.  If you’re using pineapple juice, and you don’t get any growth in 3 – 5 days, start over with a different brand/type/fresher flour. I tried several iterations with two different bags of a particular brand of whole rye, and didn’t have success until I went with a different brand of whole wheat.

3.  If, when you switch to water, the culture suddenly loses vitality, change your water source. I initially started with 16oz bottles of Crystal Geyser spring water, and my cultures went flat. When I switched to my reverse osmosis filter, good things happened.

4.  This is important:  don’t treat your brand new culture like an established starter. I can’t emphasize this enough. Once you have evidence of yeast activity in your new culture, you have to feed it. Establish a feeding schedule and, as long as there is evidence of activity, feed it. See, I kept waiting for the growth I would expect from an established starter before I wanted to feed. I kept being disappointed. Turns out I was starving the new culture. Things did not turn around for me until I kept to a 12 hour feeding schedule. Once I stopped trying to (improperly) read my culture, and fed on schedule, I immediately saw the growth I wanted. My culture isn’t where I want it yet, but it won’t be long. I am stIll in the process of encouraging it to double at a faster rate. It seems happy enough to bake with now, but I’d probably have to double my fermentation times. Could be good!

It’s completely backwards from waiting to see the growth you want from an established starter before feeding. With a new culture, it seems the more often you feed, the faster and more it grows. I suppose you reach a point of diminishing returns, at which point it is “established” and possibly deserving of a name. 

I know there are plenty of other tips and tricks from people who are way more experienced. These were my stumbling blocks. If you’re having similar trouble, I hope this helps.