Sourdough Breadmaking Part 1 – The Starter

There are many good reasons to bake your own bread, if not only for the wonderful aroma that fills your kitchen when you do! I am also finding more and more that wheat based bread is very hard to digest and sits heavily on my stomach causing uncomfortable bloating, so I have decided to have a good at baking some of my own sourdough bread. In my next series of blog posts I will share with you how I get on at each stage, starting with Part 1 – The Starter.

Sourdough bread is made with wild yeast, or a starter and this is where the process begins. Before you do anything you need to get this going as it will take about a week to become active enough to bake with. After it is ready you will need to keep feeding and looking after it, almost like a pet (I will name mine Charlie!). The process sounds long winded but it is worth it, even just for the satisfaction that you have taken one more step towards your self sufficiency goals – one being never having to buy bread from the supermarket again!

How to make a sourdough starter

  1. Find a large earthenware or plastic container with a lid, large enough to allow for frothing and building up the volume of your starter.
  2. Mix equal parts of flour (wholemeal, rye or spelt) with water to make a paste/thick batter (see Fig 1). Whisk well to help incorporate lots of air and leave in the container for 24 hours.
  3. After this time the yeast spores in the air should have reacted with your starter and it will begin to ferment – you will see bubbles on the surface (see Fig 2). This could happen sooner or later depending on the flour used, how well you whisked it etc.
  4. When the bubbles appear you will need to give you starter it’s first feeding. This is done by whisking in another 150 g of flour and 250 ml warm water.
  5. After another 24 hours your starter will start to smell more ‘yeasty’, this is good! It will need another feed, this time by emptying half of the starter into a plastic bag and discarding. Then whisking in another 150 g of flour and 250 ml cold water this time.
  6. Continue in this way for about a week, emptying half every 24 hours and replacing and then your starter should be ready to bake with!

In part 2, I will detail the next steps required to make sourdough bread – the sponge.

Sourdough Starter first stage

Fig 1 - Sourdough Starter first stage

Sourdough starter fermenting

Fig 2 - Sourdough starter fermenting

April

What was started in March, continued in April in our Kitchen Garden, all with the aim of giving us a full larder later in the year and moving further along our aim of being totally self sufficient in fruit and vegetables.

Our seedlings potted on

Our seedlings potted on

We potted on the brassica, tomato and pepper seedlings when they were big enough to handle and these are now sitting in the greenhouse waiting to be planted out later in May. The tomatoes and peppers will stay in the greenhouse, and the brassicas will go into raised bed 4 (carefully netted too, to protect from the dreaded cabbage whites!). The broad beans were looking nice and big and healthy so these went direct into the soil at the beginning of the month and are doing well as I write this, needing the growing shoots to be pinched out to avoid blackfly settling. We also planted out the pea that germinated (only one, the rest rotted unfortunately), with replacements sown directly into the ground (and still are not through. Maybe they have been taken by the birds, so will try in pots again soon). We installed some natural supports for the peas also, which were saved cut down stems from our large Astrantia in the Autumn. These are perfect sturdy supports and look beautiful too, adding height and structural interest until the peas cover them. We also added some into the ornamental borders for the sweet peas to grow ulong, and a clematis. When these are in full growth, should give us some lovely cut flowers too!

All potatoes are in the ground now with the 2nd earlies and maincrops safely in, and the first earlies needing to be earthed up regularly as the first shoots come through. We are growing King Edwards as our maincrops this year as are a regular winter staple food for us (make perfect roast potatoes!). We had some onion sets left over too and have started an experiment with permaculture, by pushing them into the soil of our ornamental borders. Update will come later in the year on how that went! We also planted out some lettuces here too (lollo rosso and little gem) as they are natural pretty and might help confuse the pests.

Earthed up first early potatoes

Earthed up first early potatoes

Seedlings coming through in raised bed 1 (roots)

Seedlings coming through in raised bed 1 (roots)

In the fruit area we planted some more (from the garden centre) strawberry plants and put up a fruit cage to help protect from pests. We moved the two blueberries we have in pots underneath here to, which gives added interest from the shape of the pots.

New fruit cage

New fruit cage

Mid month we sowed beans, courgettes and squashes into indivual 2″ pots and left to germinate in the greenhouse. These large seeds didn’t take long at all to germinate (with the help too, of some lovely warm weather) and at the end of the month most were through. When they are a bit bigger and the risk of frost has passed we will plant them into the kitchen garden (probably later in May).We also did some successional sowings of brassicas, including new ones of Savoy Cabbage and Borekale, leeks and swiss chard. Later in the month we sowed some kohl rabi, a new vegetable for us, direct into bed 3 along with more swiss chard and another try at the salsify which didn’t germinate from last months sowings.

Other tasks in looking after the garden have been regular hoeing of weeds, picking off slugs, caterpillars and other pests, and digging out the dreaded bindweed that has begun to come through! We’ve installed supports when we can for the climbers, and the netting of strawberries and precious brassicas started at the end of the month ready for when the next pests come along! We try to avoid chemical pesticides where possible, preferring to rely on more organic and eco-friendly methods. A few new impulse buys (oops!) of flowers have appeared in the borders too, including Auricula, Pasqueflower, Oriental Poppy and Valerian (in the medicinal herb area).

Our first handmade loaf

Our first handmade loaf

Meanwhile in the kitchen Rachel decided to have a go at making some bread from scratch. We’ve used a breadmaker before but could never seem to get the recipe quite right (making bread that was too dense). So, armed with the River Cottage bread handbook, she began to experiment, first making a sourdough loaf. The ‘starter’ began it’s life over Easter and has been sitting quite happily in a tub in the kitchen ever since, giving a better flavour to our loaf. The sourdough loaf was lovely but very time consuming to make (perhaps a special one to make at the weekend), so, mid month she made a normal loaf from the easy to follow recipe, with a mixture of white and brown flour. Each loaf made now gets better and better,  with us now well on our way to being self-sufficient in that department too (with a nice dollop of our own jam on top!). What’s next? Well there is butter making and of course hand grinding our own flour – but we’ll carry on practising with the bread for now!