About ten years ago, when I lived in Brighton, I had a pet called Bambi. I took my responsibilities very seriously, and made sure that it was always warm and well fed.

But then my life changed. With a new career, I was away on business a lot, and not at home to take care of things. For a few months, I was technically homeless, and it became clear Bambi would have to go. I asked various friends if they would offer a home, but no-one seemed interested, so in the end I flushed Bambi down the loo.

Before you write an outraged comment, perhaps I should point out that Bambi was a yeast culture, a sourdough starter, used for making bread.

This came to mind again a couple of days ago, following a comment on ‘s Lilliput Farmer blog. I mentioned that I used to make bread from a starter, using natural yeast. said this was something she’d like to learn about, and asked if I could write up something about how to make sourdough.

However, as I say, it’s been ten years since I last did this, so I thought I should put it into practice again before telling people how to do it. There are several ways to make a sourdough starter, but the way I learned to do it starts off with a simple mixture of flour and water, made into a moist dough ball, and left in a warm place for a couple of days. No yeast is used, the whole idea is to utilise natural yeasts either already present in the flour, or in the air itself.

After a couple of days, this turns in a unappealing crusty ball, and it doesn’t look like much is going on. However inside there should develop a core of gooey, yeasty goodness, which will eventually burst out of the ball.

When this happens, you scrape the yeast into a clean non-metallic container, and throw the crusty bit away. To the yeast, you add some flour and water, and let the culture grow. Once it develops, you use it instead of shop-bought yeast to make your bread, but you always keep a little of the starter back to grow into more yeast for future loaves.

Anyway, that’s the theory, but I didn’t expect to have such immediate success. I made my initial dough-ball 3 days ago, and the yeast erupted today in a spectacular fashion. Delighted, I used the core to make a starter, which is now in a tupperware in my airing cupboard.

Only after doing all this, I realised that I should have really taken some photographs. So while that starter is growing, I am going to start another one, using rye flour, for a change. Over the next few days, I will take some snaps, and document the progress here, together with more detailed instructions.


  1. January 30, 2010

    Hee! This reminds me of my past adventures with a “Friendship cake”. =:o}

    The theory was that one should let the mixture feed and grow for a week, and then: “Keep a third, bake a third, give a third away”.

    Alas, I didn’t have enough friends to “give a third away” on a regular weekly basis (proving that this requires an infinite and/or exponentially growing number of friends, and that most of them will cease to consider themselves friends of yours once they’ve owned their own “pyramid schemefriendship cake” for around 1.5 to 2.25 months, is left as a trivial exercise for the reader!), so instead I used to keep a half and bake a half, and leave my friends alone. However, since I was only adding enough milk/flour/sugar each week to feed a third each time, the yeast culture in the bowl become a textbook environment for conpetition over limited resources, these being (a) food, and (b) un-fouled habitat space. Consequently, after providing a succession of increasingly delicious and intoxicating cakes, the poor thing poisoned itself in it’s own alchohol output, and died. =:o

    • chris
      January 30, 2010

      Actually that is one of the good things about sourdoughs – when you get a good one, you can give it away to friends *AND* keep it for yourself.

      The one thing you have to keep doing is feed it – even when you have got more than you need, it is better to chuck half of it away, and then feed what remains, than to keep it all, and not feed it.

      Once a starter is established, and refrigerated, it probably only needs feeding once a week.

  2. January 30, 2010

    I remember the same thing with ginger beer, you took the slurry and divided it and gave half away. But then you also had to start another batch of ginger beer, and since each batch made about 6 bottles (2 pint? Whatever was the standard for glass lemonade bottles in those days) you had to drink a lot of it, as well as the pyramid scheme (so you couldn’t even give the stuff away because everyone else had too much as well).

    (My mother fondly believed that this stuff contained no alcohol. Hello, yeast? Until we had a batch of bottles — with screw tops — in the shed, and the pressure caused them to explode. Instant brewery fumes…)

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