The Life & Times of Sourdough Starter

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making sourdough starter

I've finally gone and done it. I killed my sourdough starter. It had a very well-meaning life, and when it was good, it was really superb (in my pizza dough). It was strong, at least in it’s youth. But the other morning, when I was clearing out the refrigerator in preparation for Christmas, I came across it, pushed into the back of the fridge, forlorn and forgotten. How could I?

Surprisingly, I managed to keep it going for nearly a year--my longest sourdough stint yet. It started life in Napa; we made it during a photo shoot for a cookbook I was editing, Williams-Sonoma Family Meals. We made a ton, and doled it out to the entire team, each Mason jar lovingly labeled with a hand-written tag courtesy of 9-year-old Ella. I think, with the exception of Maria the author, mine was probably the only one that survived.

But now it's gone. And since it is the time of year for new beginnings and new resolutions, and because I’m currently snowed in and housebound with my entire family for Christmas (in the arctic storm of the century in Portland Oregon) and looking for something to keep us busy so we don't kill each other, I’m going to make another batch. (If you find yourself in the same situation this holiday, I recommend something similar.) But this year I resolve to keep it alive. And to embark on many more culinary adventures in the year to come. Possibly involving my new starter. But this is only the beginning...

How To Make A Sourdough Starter
There are as many different ways to make starter as there are names for it (some of my favorite names include mother, chef, biga, and poolish). I’ve seen recipes using grapes, raisins, even rhubarb! Some use water, some use milk or yogurt, and some even use the water that you’ve boiled potatoes in. This one was inspired by Maria's and by one I made in culinary school way back when.


2 cups unbleached bread flour
2 cups smushed organic grapes
2 cups warm water


starter day 1
Day 1: Mix the flour, grapes, and water together in a glass or ceramic bowl. Put in a warm place to sit, at least overnight. I put it in my oven (with the oven off of course).

starter day 2
Day 2: Check the bowl the next day. You want to see bubbles on the surface, which is how you know it’s starting to ferment. It can take a while though (even up to 5 days or so), depending upon the room temperature and the amount of yeast in the air. So be patient!

Once your starter is bubbly, add 2/3 cup warm water and stir until combined. Strain out the grapes through a large mesh sieve. Discard the grapes and feed the starter with 1/2 cup bread flour, stirring to combine. Again, place the starter in a warm place to continue fermenting.

Day 3: Feeding time! Stir and feed your starter again with another 1/2 cup bread flour and 1/2 cup warm water. Let it hang out for another day.

Day 4: It's party time! Your starter should be ready to use in whatever recipe you might have that calls for sourdough starter. You can store it in the refrigerator in quart-sized Mason jars, just make sure you punch a hole into the top so it doesn’t explode.

The care and feeding of your starter
Your starter should be fine if you keep it in the fridge and feed it once a week, with 1/4 cup bread flour and 1/4 cup warm water. If it grows too big though, you either need to start making some bread or give it as a gift to your friends and family! Or just throw it away, but really that’s wasteful, so why not just make some bread. Or waffles, scones, biscuits, pancakes, pizza, whatever you can come up with...