Saturday, 11 February 2012

Tie your mother down

Let me tell you about my mother. She lives in my fridge and comes out once a week for dinner. The night before a baking session she sits on my worktop all night, then heads back to the fridge again. I know that some take issue with calling sourdough starter a mother, but 1) it gives you the chance to exclaim 'Oh! I must feed my mother!' and 2) I tend towards Clive Mellum's idea that calling it a mother makes it sound kind and friendly and not scary. Because for a while, it all did seem rather scary.

Resolving after my Bertinet day last year not to buy bread again seemed like a big decision and it wasn't without trepidation that I rolled up my sleeves and faced the prospect of the weekly bake. As the weeks went by, I became more confident and more interested in extending my repertoire. Sourdough was the obvious next step but the trepidation levels mounted as I read about the trials and tribulations of creating a starter, casting half of it away, feeding and nurturing it, and finally performing the alchemy of loaf creation. Much of the advice appeared to contradict the rest - type of flour, temperature, quantities, other ingredients, discarding or not discarding. Having informed myself extensively on the internet, I finished up feeling that I knew less then when I knew nothing.

A friend recommended the River Cottage method of creating a starter, so I looked around and found it here. Taking a deep breath, I boiled the kettle and readied my strong white. Not being at all confident how it was going to turn out, I took a note of what I did and recorded how it looked, so that I'd have something to refer to next time.

So, here's what I did.


In a pudding basin, I mixed up
50g Wessex Mill French Bread Flour
50g Stoneground Rye flour
warm water to mix

I behatted the bowl with clingfilm and left it to do its stuff in the airing cupboard with a whisper or two of encouragement.


As I peeked into the airing cupboard I saw with great joy a bit of a fizz on top of the mixture.

50g of the French Bread flour
50g of the Rye flour
cold water to mix

Again with the clingfilm but I left the bowl on the worktop to continue the process at ambient temperature now that it had 'taken'.


I discarded half the contents of the bowl and decanted the rest into a plastic box with an airtight clippy lid.

100g French Bread flour
cold water to mix

I clipped the lid onto the box and left it on the worktop.


Froth-a-rama! I discarded half again (you have no idea of the mess it made in the take-me-to-your-composter box).

100g French Bread flour
cold water to mix

Then back to the worktop.


Again with the discarding.

100g French Bread flour
cold water to mix

Again with the worktop.

I didn't take a photo this day, so instead here's a picture of a wrought iron flower in the grounds of the Ch√Ęteau des ducs de Bretagne in Nantes which I took the week after.



100g Shipton Mill Baker's No. 1 Strong White flour
less cold water than previously




100g Shipton Mill Baker's No. 1
less cold water to mix

And now the starter moves to its new permanent home, the top shelf of the fridge, where it lives during the week and is woken, like a fairy tale princess, every Friday ready for the weekend's baking.


If you're thinking of starting a starter or mothering a mother, then I urge you to just give it a go. It doesn't always work but it's easy enough to do it again. I keep my three mothers in the fridge and feed them weekly, it's not at all onerous or difficult and every weekend I make the most amazing bread with them. Huzzah for mothers!

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