In the Late Winter Kitchen
When we are children, the days stretch on. Memories of what felt like whole eternities spent lying in the grass under the sun or making snow angels on a cold February day fill us with a nostalgic remembering of that childlike presence of mind and body, of days that seemed to go on forever. As we grow and become responsible for tending more and more of our own lives and others’, our ability to slip into slow time seems to diminish. We move through our days managing time, feeling its quickness instead of its slowness (there is nothing like growing children of your own to bring you closer to that quickness), but rarely do we remember that we can stretch time out again, like we could in the warm sunshine years ago. Like a pose your body hasn’t struck in a long time, a shape that feels both familiar and in need of practice, we can remember the wide, unhurried feeling of time when our whole selves are immersed in a purposeful task.
Our late winter kitchens are the perfect place to reclaim some of that slow time. To find solace in ritual and warm bread as the days are cold, and to build a grounding practice that can tether us to self and place when the sun begins to beckon us anywhere else. Baking with wild yeast isn’t quick, but it is ancient. It isn’t easy to perfect, but it can be laden with intention. Sourdough baking is slow time made edible, an exercise in feeding body and spirit, a practice that gives you purpose, connection, and sandwich bread all in the same motions.
You need little more than flour and water to begin, and you can find yourself baking nourishing bread for yourself or your family or your neighbor in a week’s time. Below are instructions for making a sourdough starter yourself, one that can be maintained for as long as you’re willing, and abundantly shared with friends, too.
How to Make a Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter
Day 1: In a quart sized mason or weck jar, mix together:
100g rye flour
120g warm water
Stir together until no dry flour remains, and cover with a square of fabric or other breathable top. Allow this mixture to sit in a warm place in your kitchen for 24 hours.
Day 2: Scoop the top layer of your mixture off (about ⅓ of your total mixture), and place it in the compost. In the same jar, add:
A heaping ¾ cup all purpose flour
½ cup warm water
Stir together, replace the fabric, and return to its warm spot for another day. This is your basic ratio for every day feeding of your sourdough starter.
Day 3: By day three, you should be able to see signs of fermentation in your starter. Small bubbles on top or visible around the sides of the jar are sure signs that your mixture has captured some wild yeast and good things are brewing.
Follow the same instructions as Day 2, and return the starter to its warm spot.
Day 4: Your starter should be showing definitive signs of activity this morning.
For this feeding, pour off about half of the mixture before you feed it the flour and water. You can add another pinch of rye flour to the all-purpose flour at this feeding to help it along.
Store this starter again in its warm spot, and keep your eye on it. A sourdough starter will start to rise in its jar after a couple of hours. Full fermentation may take up to 8 hours depending on how warm your kitchen is. Once you’ve noticed that the starter has risen up and begun to fall again, it has reached peak fermentation. If this happens during the course of day 4, feed your starter again in the evening. These are signs that your starter is fermented, vivacious, and ready to use.
If you starter isn’t bubbling actively by day 4 (but you do see some signs of fermentation), repeat the process of feeding and allowing it to sit for 24 hours before moving on to more regular feedings.
If your starter never bubbles, try again! Perhaps store your mixture in a warmer location, try filtered water, or a fresher rye flour (typically you can see the date the flour was milled somewhere on the packaging).
To maintain the starter indefinitely, feed it each day using the same process described above. Pour off all but about ⅓ cup of the fermented starter, feed ½ cup water and a heaping ¾ cup all purpose flour, stir, and cover with a breathable top to ferment. Sitting on your countertop, you will need to feed the starter at least once a day. In warm conditions (over 70 degrees consistently), you will likely need to feed it twice daily to maintain its ideal state. You can slow down fermentation by keeping it in the refrigerator for part of the week if you intend to bake weekly, you’ll just need to take it out a day or two before you’d like to bake with it to let it warm up and become active again after a couple of feedings.
For tips on maintaining your starter and a recipe for classic sourdough bread, visit www.sugarhouseworkshop.com/sourdough