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Food and Cooking

How to make your own sourdough starter

How to make your own sourdough starter

By Request – here is a re-post of a very popular campfire cooking story. Sourdough is the original yeast-raised bread. Here is how you can make your own unique sourdough starter.

by Leon Pantenburg

Commercial yeast is a relatively new idea. But sourdough has been around ever since somebody figured out that raised bread tasted better than unleavened wheat cakes.

Sourdough starter is where great bread begins. (Pantenburg photo)

Sourdough starter is where great bread begins. (Pantenburg photo)

Essentially, sourdough refers to a bread that is made with a natural, liquid yeast mixture for the leavening agent.

There is always a mystique associated with sourdough starter. For some reason, the story sounds better if the starter is old and established.

For example, that famous San Francisco sourdough flavor may be reported to come from a starter that has been around since the gold rush of 1849. Or you’ll hear about starter that goes back to the Alaskan Klondike gold rush around the turn of the century.

My sourdough starter was given to me by my sister, Karla Moore. She got it in a trade, and legend has it that the starter goes back to the Oregon Trail in 1847. (Legend has it means I can’t prove something, and you can’t disprove it.)

But I have used that starter since I got it in 2004. For years it was the basis for my kids’ bread for school lunches. My sourdough dinner rolls made with that starter have won several Dutch oven bread competitions, and it has appeared twice in the finals of the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championship cookoffs.

Regardless of its real genealogy, that starter has a family history already.

There is authentic heirloom sourdough starter available, and you will decide how important that is to your baking. IMHO, any authentic/heirloom starter would inevitably get changed and mutated by native wild yeast spores. I also think that sourdough flavor is heavily influenced by the natural environment of the area it is being made in. (But consult an expert before you make up your mind: For more info on sourdough baking try my go-to bread book: Classic Sourdoughs by Ed Wood.)

For the prepper/survivalist, sourdough baking is a practical method of  bread baking. You don’t have to worry about running out of yeast, and once you acquire a taste for sourdough bread, other types seem bland and tasteless. But first you have to have the starter. It is not difficult to create.

Airborne yeast spores are everywhere, and to make a starter an appropriate landing place is required. All you need is flour and water.

This technique for catching wild yeast comes from Ernie Hahn of La Pine, OR. Ernie is a retired baker, a former competition cooking partner of mine, a Central Oregon Dutch Oven Society member, and the terror of the dessert category at any Dutch oven competition.  He is an instructor at many Central Oregon Dutch Oven Society seminars, specializing in breads.  Here is Ernie’s method for catching yeast and making a sourdough starter.

Sourdough Starter

2 c flour

2-1/2 c lukewarm water

Put flour in a crock, jar or plastic bowl that is room temperature. Add lukewarm water. Gently fold the flour and water together. Set the batch of starter in a warm, not hot place. Cover with a towel.

In about four or five days, the pot will be bubbling slowly and a wonderful aroma will fill your kitchen. When you have used up a cup in a recipe, you will want to replenish the starter. Generally, fold 2 cups of flour and 3/4 cup of  warm water together and add to your starter.

(If you are not going to use your starter for a couple of weeks, put the starter in the refrigerator. If you are not going to use it for a month, put  it in the freezer. Bring your starter to room temperature to get it working again.)


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View Comments (2)


  1. Leon

    01/22/2015 at 21:34

    An accurate description, I think.

  2. Mike Asimos

    01/22/2015 at 15:43

    Nice and informative, but I must admit your definition of “legend” had me laughing.

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Food and Cooking

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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