I would tell a lie if I told you I eat a lot of bread. I actually eat very little bread. However, when I have it, and when I make it, I devour it in a heartbeat. You could say that bread is my weakness when it’s available. But it must be fresh, hot out of the oven bread.
It’s only natural that my very first job was working in a little Mennonite store in Remington, Virginia. I’ve always said that my cooking and baking skills came from that stage in life rather than from my mother or grandmother. I never got many opportunities to cook “with” my mom or grandma, or maybe I simply wasn’t interested in it at the time. But as I have grown and now have a family of my own, I often think of cooking and baking with grandma now. The sad fact is that I now cook and bake for her, instead of with her. Slow down, time….you’re taking the people we love away from us much too quickly.
A few years ago a friend of my mothers sent me a sourdough starter through the mail. I was terrified that the white powdery substance would be inspected as some chemical war of terror, but it made it safely to my mailbox in just a few short days — from North Carolina to good ol’ Virginia.
Sourdough was a brand new thing to me. I loved eating sourdough, but I never understood the complex science behind it. I’m a fermenting queen now, but back then? No way.
The history of sourdough is simple. People needed an option to preserve and make something on a regular basis. Fermentation was one of the very first ways of preserving food for our ancestors. Yes, it came long before canning.
But with something so simple, I failed. I failed miserably the first time. I even had to ask for more suspicious white powdery mailed substance so that I could start all over again — and then I failed again. Eventually I gave up because I didn’t have the time for this complex science. Recently, however, I discovered it’s not science at all, but an art.
I began with my very own sourdough starter this time. Not that I didn’t admire my friends shared starter, but I wanted a legacy. I wanted a starter that could be passed down to my son’s wife or, if we ever have one, our own daughter. Of course, the starter would be 20 years or more old by then, but that’s the beauty of it. Isn’t this something every mom thinks of? No?
I thought I had failed again, oh my word, my future daughter-in-law in the year of 2035 won’t have a family generational sourdough starter of her own. How silly. But by the fifth day the smell of fermented grains filled my kitchen. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought my husband had a hops binge the night before…without me….how rude.
I had not failed. My 2035 daughter-in-law would have a sourdough starter of her own…bless her heart. And I would now have fresh sourdough for my family every 3 days.
It’s simple and easy. The starter stays on your counter. You feed it everyday. And then you use it when it comes time to make bread. You should know that it takes about 12 hours for your bread to rise completely. So you’ll want to make sure you start it the night before or early that morning of cooking.
1/4 cup whole grain rye flour
1/4 whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cold water
1 quart size mason jar
Day 1: Combine flours and water into quart size mason jar. Should be a thick pancake batter like consistency. Cover top tightly with a cloth or paper towel, secured with a rubber band. Set in warm place on counter out of direct sunlight.
Day 2 and 3: Stir mixture daily. Add 3/4 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup cold water every 12 hours (or twice a day). Make sure that your starter is less than halfway full in the jar. If it is more than half full, it could spill over during fermentation. Simply pour off excess.
Day 4 through 5: Stir mixture daily. Add 3/4 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup cold water once a day. Again, pouring off any excess. You will continue doing this every single day from this point on. Transfer your starter to a permanent home such as a sourdough crock or larger jar. Do not use plastic or metal.
Your starter will begin smelling very fragrant after day 5. Before day 5 it might smell very sour and nasty. But after it has successfully fermented, it will have a very lovely yeast smell to it. It can take up to 7 days of feeding your starter before it is ready to use. It will become very bubbly and active. Once it is ready to use, you’ll take out what you need and add flour and water back into the mixture every single day. If you are not going to make bread every week, then you can refrigerate the mixture and feed it once a week. However, it does much better just staying on the counter and feeding it daily.
1/2 cup to 1 cup sourdough starter
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp. oil
2 cups warm water
1 tbsp. salt
6 cups flour
1. Add all ingredients, holding back two cups of flour, into a mixer or large bowl. Knead until smooth, adding enough flour until the bread forms into a soft ball.
2. Turn out onto floured surface and knead for ten minutes (or do so in your stand mixer), until dough is elastic and smooth.
3. Put dough into greased bowl, cover with towel, and leave in a warm place to rise for 6 hours.
4. Punch down dough and knead again for 3 minutes. Divide into buttered loaf pans and let rise again for 4 hours.
5. Bake at 375* for 45 minutes or until top is brown. Loaves will sound hollow when tapped.
Amy Fewell is the Advertising Manager of The Piedmont Virginian Magazine, as well as one of our writers and graphic designers. She resides in Rixeyville, VA along with her husband, son and loveable lab. They run a small “mini-homestead” and Amy owns her own photography business. For more information, visit their homestead website and Amy’s personal photography website.