Currently, I have four pets: a new puppy named Gracie; Muffy the cat; and two sourdoughs. Yes, the sourdoughs are pets! They are living, breathing organisms, each with very different natures and personalities. And they easily take as much care and attention – in Muffy’s case, a lot more – as the other two pets. They require food and drink, usually on a daily basis, and regular attention. And if they don’t get it, they soon become ill and unable to perform their intended function, making wonderful bread. It’s because sourdough requires such attention that usually sees it getting stuck in the back of the refrigerator, where it eventually meets a neglected death.
My two sourdough pets are quite different from each other, one is brand new, well, six days old now. But the other one is over 160 years old! Don’t believe me? Well then, check out this website then. Yep, my oldest sourdough came to me last year from the Friends of Carl Griffith, a fellow who spent his whole life giving away the sourdough culture that his forebears had brought with them over The Oregon Trail in 1847, and that many generations of his family had kept alive since that time! Carl would never sell his sourdough, and his friends are keeping up the tradition – if you’d like some, all you need do is send Carl’s Friends a SASE and a request.
My newest sourdough comes via this website: and the instructions on this page are unique because they tell you why this sourdough will work, and work well. More science! As you’ll note if you visit The Fresh Loaf site – a fantastic source for all kinds of bread baking info – this sourdough starter calls for commercial orange or pineapple juice, for a very interesting reason. Only recently has food science learned that there are many different kinds of bacteria at work in a developing sourdough starter, and that these bacteria are in battle with each other for dominance – it is the ph levels of the sourdough mixture that determines which bacteria win the battle. Interestingly, one kind of bacteria (not the true sourdough bacteria) present on wheat needs a neutral ph level – and when you first mix flour and water, a neutral ph environment is created. This results in an almost instant production of fast acting bacterial gases, which just as quickly die, as one of their by-products is acid, and a rising ph. This causes most sourdough makers to believe that their attempt has failed, and that their sourdough mix is dead! But the patient sourdough starter maker, and continued feeding will eventually result in success – as the ph level rises, the good sourdough bacteria begin growing faster and faster, and soon the good bacteria has taken over and rules. Ta-da!
I have given my two sourdough pets names, because very soon it will be all too easy to mix them up, and that would not make me happy. My old sourdough from Carl Griffith I’ve named “Carl” in his honor – and because I’m sure there’s a bit of Carl in there too! And because my new sourdough is made from a fresh apple and some grapes from my yard, I’ve named it “Grappleson”. My rationale was that both my apples and grapes would contain the natural bacteria that are sought in the making of a sourdough starter, and I wouldn’t be depending entirely on getting them either from the air, or from the wheat itself. And since my juice wouldn’t be as acidic as orange or pineapple, I added a teaspoon of cider vinegar right up front.
It’s day seven in the life of the infant, Carl – the sourdough infant, of course – and it’s actively bubbling along nicely. But the worse thing one can do with a new sourdough is to use it for bread baking before it’s ready. And in this case, that means waiting another two weeks or so. So, we’ll slip our starters to their own special waiting area at the back of the kitchen counter, and let ’em grow stronger and stronger! Then we’ll pull them out again and see just how good they can be. I’ll check back with you then, and we’ll do some serious baking.