Start me up

My mountain man and I love sourdough. The sourer the better. About two years ago my mountain man started me a starter so we could make our own super sour sourdough. It didn’t work.

I asked around, to see if anyone had one. No one did. Or at least no one would admit to me that they had one. I gave up. I had a job, I volunteered a lot. I didn’t have time to make bread.

Then a few months ago, I made a desperate plea to my friends to share their sourdough start with me.

No one answered.

It seemed that no one was practicing the fine art of hooch dough. Or maybe they were just unwilling to share, afraid that I would kill their pet.

For months I pitied myself for not having a good sourdough start. I wanted a 50-year-old baby. The perfect super-sour starter to make perfect bread the first time. I would be a bread genius.

But it never came knocking.

So after watching Nancy SIlverton talk about her sourdough on PBS, I thought I’d just get off my whiney hiney and make it myself. In 50 years I’d have a 50-year-old starter, anyway. And I’m a housewife, dammit. I can make bread.

It seemed so easy.

First problem: I wanted to use grapes to help feed the yeast, but I wanted to get organic grapes so that I wouldn’t have pesticides in my bread. I also wanted to leave the grapes fairly unwashed, so that any yeast that’s naturally on them would make it into the starter.

It’s January. There are no grapes right now.

So I’ll have to wait for some local organic grapes to be in season.

I’m not very good at waiting.

As an insurance policy I went ahead and started a regular starter last week.

Here’s how I did it.

First, pour a cup of tea. You’re going to need warm water, you might as well enjoy it. DSC_0157 For this job I chose a cherry marzipan green tea.

DSC_0160 Next I collected the tools of my new trade. A wide-mouth glass container (I’ll use a jar for the “real” starter, this one’s the insurance policy so I just used a pyrex dish I had) along with a cup of AP flour and a cup of warm water.

DSC_0161Then, as in generations before me, I mixed them together into a slurry.

DSC_0162And then it was smooth.

DSC_0164And then I put the lid on. I never even got to drink my tea!

I will sit my slurry somewhere warm – between 70 & 80 degrees. The only place in my house that is always that temp is on top of the frog tank.

Finally those lazy frogs are good for something.

If it ever gets bubbly I’ll stick it in the fridge. So far there’s not too much bubbling going on. Maybe those lazy frogs aren’t good for much after all. It’s such a long time to wait for grapes to be in season when I want to make a start right this second. And my simple start isn’t doing it. Maybe my house is too cold, but I think there’s not enough yeast in the air or in my flour. My insurance policy against the failure of my real dough is turning out to be a failure.

Again, I plead. I want some very sour starter. I’ll feed it, I swear. I won’t let it die.

I wish I could make my own bubbles. To make myself feel better about my lack of bubbles I decided to make some other stuff. I made some (hang on for food alliteration!) butter, buttermilk biscuits, BBQ sauce, beef & barley soup and Brussels sprouts with bacon.

Because Brussels sprouts are the best reason I could think of to eat some bacon today.


  1. Hi Megan,

    I love to bake, but have never dealt with bread and leavened items because I am always intimidated or I worry I'll end up making myself (or someone else) sick.

    I didn't know anything about this sourdough process you were describing, and as a scientist, I needed to read about it. I found this website that might be of help to you when you try again.

    Best of luck!


  2. Hi Courtney- thanks for reading & thanks for the link! I've been baking standard white bread for a while, and the whole yeast thing is a bit of a mystery. I'd never worried about getting sick though - now I might! Yikes.

    Generally I don't bake too much because I hate measuring things, and getting a perfect measure with a babe in arms is pretty difficult. I can usually manage a loaf of bread a week, although I've been on a hiatus for a few weeks while my Pie has been crying all night. I did make biscuits to replace my bread this week, though.

    I just started clicking around the site and I'm completely absorbed, and now a little scared about my own starter, which magically started bubbling and growing since I posted this. Maybe I just needed to give up for it to work. It smells good and looks good so I'll hang on to it and see how it does. It's an experiment, if nothing else.

    If you're interested in my white bread recipe it's never failed me, I blogged it but I can send it to you in a cleaner form, too.


  3. Megan, it would be awesome if you shared your white bread recipe with me. I toy around with baking bread everyone once in a while and never follow through. Maybe a recommended recipe will help me with that.

  4. Hi Courtney -
    Here is my post about my regular bread recipe. If you want a cleaner recipe and some more info, please email me (so I have your email address) and I'll send you more!


    email me at mamaisa4letterword {at} gmail {dot} com

  5. Hey Megan

    The best book I have found for making all kinds of bread is this book.. http://bakingbites.com/2010/01/peter-reinharts-artisan-breads-every-day/

    It is spendy but I think work it, if you ever want to borrow it let me know!

    - Meg

  6. well, we have failure. although my hooch dough started rising and bubbling a couple days after I started it, i fed it and checked it later and it had tuned from a sticky, active dough to a slimy pile of goo. it deflated, got clumpy and smelled like blue cheese. i knew the smells would change throughout the process, but i can't get behind bread that smells like moldy cheese. i can hardly even get behind moldy cheese. so i sent away for a Carl Griffith starter, and my soon-to-be sister in law said she'd give me a little chunk of her baby. so we'll see if i can make this work. megwin, i may need to be borrowing that book.

  7. So I read your white bread recipe. And it occurred to me I don't own a loaf pan ( I lived with my mom for a long time, and then right up the street from her - never felt the need to acquire MY OWN baking pans). I also don't have an instant read thermometer. Have no fear - my fiance and I did our wedding gift registering this weekend - and I included both those items in our gift requests.

  8. excellent! i highly recommend using all glass bakeware - pyrex is great. you won't have to deal with peeling or scratched non-stick coating, rusting pans, uneven cooking (some of the metal pans just cook irregularly).

    you may notice that everyone's grandmother still has their pyrex dishes... they last forever! you can always grab one (or any loaf pan) at a goodwill-type shop or garage sale in the meantime.

    you also don't necessarily need a thermometer - if the loaf is brown and risen, and a knife inserted into the center comes out pretty much clean, the loaf is done.

    i also highly recommend getting a copy of Bakewise if you're interested in learning the hows & whys of baking. I haven't read it, but it sounds phenomenally informative. now to figure out how to justify buying another cookbook...

    happy baking!


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