Printed with permission of the Alpine Avalanche – Aug. 3, 2017
Sourdough is the oldest and most original form of leavened bread. The oldest recorded use of sourdough is from the Ancient Egyptian civilizations, back around 1500 B.C.
If you mix any ground up grain (or grapes or other fruit) with water and then let it sit in the open air at room temperature, wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria in the air will settle in the mix, eat the natural sugars and convert them into lactic (and other) acids which give it a sour flavor. They also give off alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is what will cause the bread to rise. When worked into a bread dough, the bubbles get trapped into the structure of the bread, resulting in the little holes in the sourdough bread.
Back in 2010, we forced our teenage daughters to pick those tart, wild Muscadine grapes off a fence near the house. The girls were anything but thrilled with the chore and came back with sour faces, itchy arms and bowls full of grapes that tasted like anything but “grapes.”
We then stemmed the grapes, mixed them with some flour and water and stuck them in a cool, dark spot to ferment. We didn’t wash them, because the wild yeast and bacteria attached to the grape skin are necessary for fermentation.
My personal sourdough starter experience began with some dough-like stuff (that smelled of red wine if you took a whiff) in a large mason jar. I fed it a tablespoon of flour and a little less water every day, and it thrived and created the alcohol layer (also called “hooch”) nearly daily, which meant my new culture was strong and hungry. Soon, I had to transfer it into another container and stick the original half-full jar in the fridge.
After a very busy weekend, I had a feeling much like when I realize I haven’t fed the pets all day – I forgot to feed the larger container hidden in the kitchen cabinet. I just knew I’d ruined my starter that I’d so diligently been growing. I also knew I had back-up in the fridge, but the thought of losing the big jar was a little sad.
So, I overfed it with a cup of flour and some water, and like a miracle, it bubbled and grew back to life. It was so happy and so hungry that it overflowed and spilled all over the cabinet not once, but twice. I didn’t kill the starter after all.
I’ve been on a sourdough kick lately. And by “kick” I mean semi-obsessive-compulsively building up sourdough starter that we’ve had snoozing in the fridge for some time.
Fearing we’d let it die from neglect since we hadn’t been baking much, I set out to revive it. It was honestly painful to throw away the starter every time I fed it, so I started new containers of starter. That meant using up more flour to feed it. And storing more starter in the fridge. It was like once I started the starter, I couldn’t stop.
The containers were multiplying daily and in less than a week, I ended up with so much sourdough starter that my husband questioned my sanity. So, I gave some of the starters away. It’s easy to revive and doesn’t take much to get going again.
If you enjoy baking and want to try a method that has been proven for over a thousand years, get a batch of starter going. And if you keep it in a cabinet, please don’t forget it’s there.
Sourdough Starter from Grapes
1 bunch organic grapes
2 cups white bread flour
2 cups water
Have ready a glass bowl, wooden spoon, a towel and a strainer. Crush the grapes slightly, and measure out about 2 cups into a glass bowl. Add the flour and water. Mix with a wooden spoon until the batter has become thick and gooey. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let it sit at room temperature overnight.
The next day, check the starter for bubbles of gas coming to the surface, a sure sign of fermentation. Be patient: This can take as long as 5 days in some environments.
Once the starter has begun to ferment, strain out the grapes and “feed” the starter with a bit of flour and water.
You can use the starter right away, or you can let it sit for another few days. The longer you let the starter ferment, the stronger the flavor of your bread will be; after about 4 days, chances are it will be too sour to eat.
If you aren’t ready to make bread right away, or if you’ve made enough starter for several loaves, you can freeze your starter and save it for later. Simply divide it into 1-cup portions, wrap each one in 2 layers of plastic, and put them in the freezer.
To bring the starter back to life, let it sit in a glass bowl overnight at room temperature. When the yeasts “wake up,” the fermentation process will start again.
1/3 cup sugar (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp. salt
1 cup starter
1-1/2 cup warm water
6 cup bread flour
In large bowl, make stiff batter of all ingredients. Grease another large bowl and put batter in it. Turn dough over so oily side is up. Cover lightly with foil and let stand overnight. Do not refrigerate. Let rise 10 to 12 hours.
Punch down and knead a little. Divide into 3 parts and knead each part on a floured board 8 to 10 times. Put into greased loaf pans and brush with oil. Let rise 5 to 6 hours – all day is OK since dough rises slowly. Cover with waxed paper to rise.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from pans and brush with butter. Cool completely and wrap well to store. Bread can be refrigerated or frozen.
If desired, 2 cups whole wheat flour may be substituted for 2 cups bread flour.