These guys don't eat much by our standards, and they also don't need to eat often. They do eat, however. Their favorite food is a 50/50 mixture of flour and water, with just a tablespoon or less of sugar added. The water temperature should be a hot-lukewarm; it can be almost as hot as your hot tapwater. It shouldn't be so hot that you can't put your hand into the water, though. No need to measure the amounts, just dump some in. These fellows are very user friendly.
When you replenish your starter, however, always add the flour first, then the water on top. That way you can be certain that you won't scald those of your pals who have chosen to valiantly remain in the container to begin the new generation.
By the way, when you add flour and water you are giving them all they need. No matter how they implore you, there is simply no need to buy any of the expensive treats that dot the supermarket shelves these days, like Sourdough Snackies® or Starter Nibbles.® If you decide to give them treats, that's up to you, but the fact is that it isn't essential.
The sugar will give them the same result. Its effect is to do pretty much what it does to the rest of us; it gets them hyperactive. They wake up and start eating even more rapidly. Add just a little sugar, though, or they'll eat too fast and burn up all their flour/water supply faster than you want them to and begin entreating for more. The 50/50 mix is just an approximation which allows for easy pancake and waffle making. Sometimes, when taking some of your sourdough backpacking, for example, you may want to add lots more flour until you have a ball which can be wrapped up so that there is no other container you need to pack.
The Alaskan Sourdoughs, like my father, got that name from the fact that they carried the stuff with them all the time. It was their only way to have leavened bread products. Since it had to be kept from freezing, the sourdough ball even went to bed with them in cold weather. When you do that it's much better to have a semi-solid ball than the usual gooey mass that comprises a traditional starter. If you don't believe me, just try it both ways. Just don't say I didn't warn you...
You can take virtually all the starter out of your starter jar, even scrape the sides, and still these guys will come roaring back to life. They live on a kind of exponentially multiplicative existence plane (actually quite similar to our own species these days), so a little sourgoo on the sides will be enough.
When you add your flour and water to replenish, keep in mind that you only want the container to be about half full (or, alternatively, half empty) when you're done. In their aim to please, these guys multiply mighty fast...
After stirring thoroughly, put the lid on loosely so that they can peek out and see what's going on once in awhile. If they can't take a look out if they want to, they will sputter and pout inside the container, eventually getting so upset that they are likely to just explode their way out. Let them sit out on the counter somewhere halfway warm until the flour/water mixture turns back to sourdough buddy goo. Usually this takes about all day; if it isn't finished by the time you go to bed, wait until morning. The resulting mixture should be a gloop so thick that it doesn't want to fall from your spoon, yet stirrable.
Don't leave the container to reconstitute on your stove burner or in the sink; sooner or later you will fill it too full and it will overflow in the night. (Some theories hold that whenever sourdough pets get plentiful enough to constitute a quorum, they will then always vote to send a search party to check and make sure their owner is doing okay. They simply love you to pieces.) Their overflow messes will make you wish for a new puppy to clean up after, instead, so do be careful.
By the way, you will also want to always put your empty bowls to soak as soon as you're finished with them. That way they will be easy to clean. If you forget, then soak all your pans/bowls, etc., for an hour or so before cleaning. You'd just as well, because that's how long it takes to get off encrusted sourdough critter goo, anyway, so you'd just as well be off lounging with a full belly.
When they have renewed themselves, put them to bed back into your fridge until next time. They prefer to hibernate on low intake of food until they are needed. Whenever you need them, like superheroes, they can be ready again instantly.
Unlike other pets, you can leave them hibernating for up to a month, and they will still love to do anything for you (to the degree they are physically capable, of course - without opposible thumbs their range of skills is necessarily somewhat limited) when you get them out.
Usually there will be some amount of liquid on the top; just stir this in before using. If, for some reason, they all die, (they will smell, well, dead, instead of sour; you will know...) they prefer a simple ceremony, a plain granite stone, and interment in a quiet, sunny spot. As an alternative, you can compost them or give them the old flusheroo. Whichever, if you got your starter from me just let me know and (with only a little light ribbing) I will gladly provide a batch of first cousins to get you started again.
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© 1999 Ranger Kidwell-Ross
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