Ol’ Cowboy Boot Starter

by Sabastian | January 1st, 2011

There is no better way to start the new year than to get some sourdough starter goin’.

Thirty years ago, or so, my Uncle Bob stumbled across some hundred year old sourdough starter said to have been carried across the country in the boot of a cowboy. It was kept a kickin’ and pasted from boot to hand, city to town, hill to dale, prairie to trail. The stories are as deep as a ten gallon hat and as long as a cattle drive. Yee haw!

Ye all know a good story is made of part truth n’ part fiction, but therein lies the worth in tellin’. How good is it in the life of them that heard? And this tail got me thinkin’ I might just be game to havin’ a wild bunch of livin’ culture on my counter fer a spell.

Now you all just settle down. This ain’t any more complicated than fattenin’ a herd. Starter is just a flour and water mixture containing yeast. Back in the day they used wild yeasts that came straight out of their environment. In fact, starter begins to take on the wild yeast of it’s local. That’s probably why San Francisco has such a reputation for sourdoughs and it being so difficult to duplicate breads from other regions. But hell, what do I know? This is just a tail anyway.

Now I happen to be lucky enough to have a starter that has been workin’ fer awhile. You can just as easily start one up from scratch. But then, what is really scratch these days? A lot people think that ‘from scratch’ is a can this and a package of that, mix ’em up and voilà, as they say in french. I like to think that ‘from scratch’ is a whole lot more basic combination of bare elements and not some pre-packaged stuff. But I’ve been known to take a short cut or two, once in a while, so I’ll forgive you and myself at the same time.

The Not So Scratch Recipe Is Pretty Simple:

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 packet active-dry yeast
2 cups warm water

Mix it together and cover with a cloth (wild yeast from your environment can pass through the cloth) and set the starter in a warm place. Shortly it’ll bubble and froth as it ferments. That reminds me of a story about my Grandma’s ‘Worthy’, but that ‘ill be told another day. The starter will develop a pleasant sour smell. Every couple of days take some out and feed it with like amounts of flour and water.

Yeah. You can use some wholewheat or even some rye. It’s  just like a story, never told the same, but if you get certain things right, it works. For instance a warm place is 70 to 80° Fahrenheit (temperatures over 100° will kill it) and warm water is 105 to 115° Fahrenheit. Use only glass or high fire glazed ceramics. Don’t use metal, plastic or low fire ceramics that may contain lead. High chlorine will stop the process, of course, that’s what chlorine does, is kill everything. Try a diluted mixture of chlorine and water on the mold in your tub. Zing!

Really From Scratch Recipe:

Get some organic rye and wheat berries. Grind them down to flour. The wild yeast is on the berries and just needs to be woken up. On day one mix together two tablespoons of the whole grain flour and  two tablespoons unsweetened pineapple or orange juice, cover and set in a warm place. Yeast needs a little more acidity to grow, thus the juice. The next day add the same amount of flour and juice, stir it up good, cover and set again. You should start it bubble a bit. On day three you add more of the same. The fourth day you throw half away and add a quarter cup of any kinda flour and a quarter cup a water, stir it up good, cover and set again.

Well now, I suppose you want a bread recipe. This is as simple as it gets:

Lil’ Loaf

¾ cup Starter
½ cup Water
2 cups Flour
1 teaspoon Sugar
¾ teaspoon Salt

Mix, knead, let rise twice till doubled, third time shape, when risen bake in 350º Fahrenheit oven for 10 minutes, brush with water, bake another 35 minutes. Oh, by the by, replace what was taken from the starter jar with like amounts of flour and water.

As you slice, tear, dip or drizzle remember the story that brought you to this place and always know, ‘You’re never alone when it comes to food.’

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