Commercial yeast is a relatively new idea. But sourdough has been around ever since somebody figured out that raised bread tasted better than unleavened wheat cakes.
Essentially, sourdough refers to a bread that is made with a natural, liquid yeast mixture for the leavening agent.
There is always a mystique associated with sourdough starter. For some reason, the story sounds better if the starter is old and established.
For example, that famous San Francisco sourdough flavor may be reported to come from a starter that has been around since the gold rush of 1849. Or you’ll hear about starter that goes back to the Alaskan Klondike gold rush around the turn of the century.
My sourdough starter was given to me by my sister, Karla Moore. She got it in a trade, and legend has it that the starter goes back to the Oregon Trail in 1847. (Legend has it means I can’t prove something, and you can’t disprove it.)
But I have used that starter since I got it in 2004. For years it was the basis for my kids’ bread for school lunches. My sourdough dinner rolls made with that starter have won several Dutch oven bread competitions, and it has appeared twice in the finals of the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championship cookoffs.
Regardless of its real genealogy, that starter has a family history already.
There is authentic heirloom sourdough starter available, and you will decide how important that is to your baking. IMHO, any authentic/heirloom starter would inevitably get changed and mutated by native wild yeast spores. I also think that sourdough flavor is heavily influenced by the natural environment of the area it is being made in. (But consult an expert before you make up your mind: For more info on sourdough baking try my go-to bread book: Classic Sourdoughs by Ed Wood.)
For the prepper/survivalist, sourdough baking is a practical method of bread baking. You don’t have to worry about running out of yeast, and once you acquire a taste for sourdough bread, other types seem bland and tasteless. But first you have to have the starter. It is not difficult to create.
Airborne yeast spores are everywhere, and to make a starter an appropriate landing place is required. All you need is flour and water.
This technique for catching wild yeast comes from Ernie Hahn of La Pine, OR. Ernie is a retired baker, a former competition cooking partner of mine, a Central Oregon Dutch Oven Society member, and the terror of the dessert category at any Dutch oven competition. He is an instructor at many Central Oregon Dutch Oven Society seminars, specializing in breads. Here is Ernie’s method for catching yeast and making a sourdough starter.
2 c flour
2-1/2 c lukewarm water
Put flour in a crock, jar or plastic bowl that is room temperature. Add lukewarm water. Gently fold the flour and water together. Set the batch of starter in a warm, not hot place. Cover with a towel.
In about four or five days, the pot will be bubbling slowly and a wonderful aroma will fill your kitchen. When you have used up a cup in a recipe, you will want to replenish the starter. Generally, fold 2 cups of flour and 3/4 cup of warm water together and add to your starter.
(If you are not going to use your starter for a couple of weeks, put the starter in the refrigerator. If you are not going to use it for a month, put it in the freezer. Bring your starter to room temperature to get it working again.)
By Leon Pantenburg, who blogs at Survival Common Sense. Subscribe to his newsletter for weekly tips and recipes!