Fermentation Babies: Serenading the Wild Yeast


At work on the calendar of July that’s taped to my cubicle wall, I have written sourdough underneath all the days to come.

I may have technically started my first teff culture in June, but July is full-fledged wild yeast harvesting month. Somehow in the midst of reading everything I could get my hands on about farming and homesteading when we first got back from England, I stumbled upon this nugget (which I immediately copied and pasted into an email to myself):

I mean, it sounds really intimidating, but basically, if you put some flour in water and get it to the consistency of like pancake batter — don’t even measure— don’t worry about measurement; just get it to batter. Turn it with — you know, give it a lot of air. Mix it vigorously every time you walk by the kitchen for about a week. At a certain point, you’ll see it will start bubbling. Leave it open to the air. And at a certain point, it will come to life. It’s an amazing moment. And you’ll see little bubbles. And you’ll smell it, and it will smell kind of bready or like yeast. And then you’ve got your starter. – Michael Pollan

And at that moment I felt a whole new world open up before me. Because, you see, of course you don’t need to start out with yeast from a packet. Because that yeast came from somewhere back before we had little packets or jars of it and we’ve been making bread for millennia. And – holy shit – you can ferment anything, can’t you?

I started with a bowl full of teff and water which I left out for a few days, watched blossom into something definitely alive, then fade and turn smelly. I wasn’t feeding it because everything online told me to leave it alone for several days, but then I panicked and fridged it, and when I pulled it out it was definitely not doing much. I fed and watered it and put it back on top of the fridge, but it only turned black and scary. So I threw it away.

And started again.

This time I’m starting properly with several different kinds of gluten free flour and daily feedings because damn man, this is the desert, and it’s hot. I have teff again – because teff is delicious and the extra starter you scoop out each day makes amazing pancakes – as well as sorghum, brown rice, and a sort of mystery bag Bob’s Redmill all-purpose flour. All of these – the internet has assured me – will attract wild yeast and ferment. And so far they have – you can see the little bubbles in the top photo, and that is only day 2. 😀

I’m super excited at this tiny bit of microbe wizardry. In less than a week I should have four viable starters, and then the fun REALLY begins. I’m looking forward to experimenting with making the sourdough bread itself, as well as the myriad other delicious things that can be done with starters.

If it works, I’ll share my step-by-step, incredibly undetailed process here, as well as whatever sourdough recipe I end up using. If it doesn’t, well – I’ll try and suss out why and start again.


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Filed under diet, simply informative

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