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2020-02-27 Feeding the neglected starter

Have I been too careful?  Too obsessive?

Hello Bread Heads!

In the previous issue of the Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips I talked about a seriously neglected starter.  One starter had been left alone and unloved on my counter for well over a month.  Until my wife could no longer tolerate the smell.  As a point of clarification, I was in the hospital for a good part of that time, and just so far under the weather I wasn't too concerned about my starter.

Several people have written telling me they ignore their starter until it's time to bake then they feed it and its happy.  Dr. Ed Wood, one of my favorite sourdough authors, said he's never seen a starter he couldn't revive.  So, have I been too careful?

At the end of the previous newsletter I said I was feeding the horrid smelling starter as well as one stored in my fridge and we'd see which revived more quickly and what the differences between them was.  In the interest of being able to tell them apart, I called the refrigerated one "Frigid" and the that had been out for over a month "Scruffy".  What follows is a number of pictures showing how they responded to my usual feeding regimen of two feedings a day, each enough to double the amount of starter on hand.  I wanted to have 500 grams of each by mid week so I could do some baking.



The unfed and neglected starters


And now some notes...

The awful smell of the Scruffy starter was very pungent.  Around the time of the third feeding I sniffed it and the nasty smell stayed stuck in my nostrils for the rest of the evening, which was unfortunate since we went to a cheese tasting.  All the cheeses smelled like nasty starter.

However, between the 4th and 5th feedings the nasty smell went away.

In the end, the two starters were indistinguishable.   I had let the starters rise a bit too long before taking the final photos, so they had reached a peak and then receded.  You can see the residue in the Cambo containers quite a bit higher up than the starter.

The starters made breads that were indistinguishable.  A nice sour, a good rise.

I also made King Cakes, which tasted very good.  I really like a sourdough King Cake!

All this leaves me wondering if I have been too careful and too obsessive for the past 15 years.  More tests, or starter abuse, will follow.

After the baking tests were over, I left the starters in the Cambro jars in our proofer without feeding them.  It is interest that 4 days later the Frigid starter still smelled nice, while the Scruffy starter was well on its way to becoming unpleasant.

In our starters we have Darwinian survival of the fittest writ small.  What the starter survives shapes it.  It isn't clear what the mechanism behind Scruffy stinking was, but I am guessing it helped the starter survive, so it was ready to go there again.

Until next time, may your dough rise, no matter what crazy stuff you did to your starter!

3 thoughts on “2020-02-27 Feeding the neglected starter…”

  1. It may have been Ed Woods’ book, or another book where the cause of ‘scruffy’ odors in starters is from a bacteria which, as the staters grow and/or revive, the yeasts and LAB’s over take the odor causing bacteria. Foul looking black liquids and putrid smells? Out with you!

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