This morning, I am sitting in the waiting room while Gramma has surgery to put in a new hip.  We are so glad for her to have her pain relieved but this part always makes me crazy.  I have been up all night worrying and praying so everything should go great.  The praying does so much more than the worrying but I can’t help adding the worrying, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”

I am so very excited to share with you my love of sourdough.  This fermented, slimy, breathing mass is gold for bakers.  It has been used as a rising agent in baked goods for hundreds of years.  Travelers of all eras have carried this precious starter next to their skin to add to their meals at their camp.  It was a staple among fur traders, sheep herders, cow camps, gold diggers and pioneers.  In her book, On The Banks Of Silver Lake, a young Laura Ingalls Wilder, excitedly described to her new friend how they have made these delicious biscuits every day all winter long while living nowhere near a store to purchase yeast.

Sourdough has been a part of my life since I was just a little girl.  I remember sourdough pancakes from my mom and my best friend’s mom.  They had learned the indispensable trick of keeping their sourdough starter in the fridge until the night before it was needed and then “waking it up” on the counter for use the next day.  The flavor is sometimes described as nutty or tangy and always as delicious.  The texture is light and fluffy.  The smell is distinctive like vinegar is distinctive.  Once you smell it you will always recognize it.

All the recipes I use call for another rising agent and I always use it to ensure a well-raised product.  Baking powder and yeast do not destroy the flavor but they do help make sure you are a successful baker every time.  It doesn’t matter to me that I am not baking like those amazing bakers of 150 years ago, I’m using many different products than they did anyway.  We just love the sourdough experience.

Making a starter takes a week or two.  There are a dozen different methods to begin a starter.  If you are lucky enough to get a start from someone, just feed it and you can begin baking the next day.  Otherwise, try one of these methods.

The easiest way is to mix about 2 cups warm water, 1 cup flour, and 1-2 tablespoons yeast in a large glass or plastic bowl and leave it on the counter.  By the next day, the mixture should have formed bubbles that are continually breaking.  Every day add ½ cup flour and ½ cup warm water and stir it so that the starter is constantly bubbling.  It is alive and growing as long as the bubbles are forming.  It isn’t necessary to cover it but its fine to cover it with plastic wrap.  The theory behind leaving it open to the air is that it is collecting airborne bacteria.  The drawback is that it forms a skin on top, every day.  If you choose to leave it open to the air, just peel off the skin every day rather than stirring it in.  It will leave undesirable lumps in the starter that won’t ever dissolve.  Some folks swear that any metal touching the starter will ruin it.  Other folks swear that you must mix with unwashed hands not using utensils so that any soap residue doesn’t kill the starter.  I have not seen a difference trying either of these theories but for a faster fermentation, I use the water drained from boiled potatoes, cooled to somewhere between room temperature and body temperature.  Too hot or too cold will kill the starter at this point.  That is why room temperature is also important.  If humans are comfortable so is your starter.  Over the course of the 1-2 weeks, the starter may outgrow the container.  Make sure you always have enough starter for your recipe and some to save for the next use but extra can be discarded or shared as you choose.  I always keep about a quart jar full for the next time so that I am starting with more aged starter than the amount of food (flour and water) that I am adding.


It is important to note that early settlers used some of their excess starter from this first 2 weeks to fill the cracks between logs in their cabins.  This stuff dries ROCK HARD and doesn’t easily dissolve.  Keep that in mind when you throw the used bowls or utensils in the sink or dishwasher to be washed later.  Once dried you will be scraping for possibly decades to get the dried bits off the dishes and the counters.  Just saying, it’s only funny when it isn’t you.

So after the starter smell has mellowed some, try some of my favorite recipes.  Don’t forget that you can cover and refrigerate what you don’t use for about a month.  It will begin to separate and the liquid on top will begin to darken.  It is still alright to use.  Don’t use it if it has any mold on it at any time.  As long as the starter has the unique sourdough smell it is still alive just hibernating.  If you are ever in doubt, just throw out the old and start over but the longer you can keep your starter alive, the better your finished product will taste.  All the recipes I am sharing with you, come from The Complete Sourdough Cookbook by Don and Myrtle Holm and published by The CAXTON PRINTERS, Ltd.  This book is no longer in print.  My copy is well-worn and dog-eared with many penciled notes in the margins.  Mom gave it to me so the notes are in her hand as well as mine.



Beat 3 eggs.  Add 1 cup sweet milk and 2 cups sourdough starter.  Stir in 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour with 1 teaspoon soda, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, ¼ cup sugar.  Stir in berries if desired.  Spray a heated pan or griddle with pan spray and drop batter by spoon or ladle onto the hot griddle.  Flip flapjacks when bubbles form.

This recipe makes a lot of pancakes.  The recipe can be halved but use 2 eggs and ½ the rest of the ingredients.  Or make the entire recipe and keep the leftovers in a plastic bag in the fridge to satisfy future overwhelming pancake cravings.


When I worked at the bakery, I took this recipe with me and made it every Wednesday.  This bread sold out every week.


1 cup sourdough starter                                             ¼ cup honey

2 cups warm water                                                      7 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups warm milk                                                         2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon soft butter                                             2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon rapid rise yeast                                     2 teaspoons baking soda

Mix starter and 2 ½ cups of the flour and all the water the night before.  (Put the rest of the starter in a bowl and stir in some flour and water to replace the 1 cup that you stole even if you are just going to put it back in the fridge in the morning.)  Next morning mix butter with the milk and warm until about 92 degrees.  I put it in a saucepan and set on low heat on the stove and stir the milk with my finger until it doesn’t feel hot or cold to me.

Stir the honey into the milk then add 2 more cups of flour and the rapid rise yeast.  Stir with a spatula until the lumps are gone.  Sprinkle the sugar, salt, and baking soda over the mixture and stir it in.  Cover for about 30-50 minutes until the mixture is bubbly.  At this point, I put the batter in my Kitchen-Aid and using the dough hook, I mix on low while adding the flour about 1 cup at a time until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl.  The dough should still be sort of sticky so I don’t always use all the flour.  Then I leave it to knead for about 5 or 6 minutes more.

If kneading by hand, stir in flour, one cup at a time, with the spatula until the dough is too stiff to use the spatula.  Then turn the dough onto a table or counter and knead until a silky dough is developed.  Once again, the dough should be slightly sticky not dry so you might not use all the flour called for.  A good test to see if you have kneaded the dough enough is to stretch a small bit of the dough between your fingers.  If it stretches well without breaking, it is ready to raise.

No matter which kneading method you use, now cover the dough and leave it to raise for about 2 hours.  After this first raising, divide the dough into 2 pound pieces and knead each piece a few times before forming into a ball.  I usually get 2 regular loaves and one slightly smaller loaf.  Let the ball rest for a few minutes while getting out the bread pans and spraying each pan with cooking spray.  Take the first ball that was formed and squish it out into a thick rectangle.  Fold in both sides toward the middle of the rectangle and beginning at the end closest to you roll the rectangle into a tight roll-no air pockets, then pinch to seal all edges and ends until it is loaf shaped and put in loaf pan.


Cover and leave to raise for approximately another hour.  It might be less if the kitchen is really warm.  When the loaves are raised about an inch or two above the pan and has filled out the inside of the pan, the loaves are ready for the oven.


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and bake loaves for 40 minutes.  Immediately dump the loaves out of the pans and leave upright on a rack.  If a soft crust is desired, butter can be rubbed on the top while still hot.


This is my absolute FAVORITE recipe to use sourdough for.  Sourdough English Muffins have always been my favorite breakfast toast and my favorite breakfast (or dinner) of all time is Eggs Benedict.  I am positive that this delicious treat isn’t called English Muffins all over the world but these biscuits are certainly world-class.  American names always entertain me and I always wonder how we came to call things what they call them.  Take Football for example…


1 cup sourdough starter (morning after feeding)                                       2 cups warm water

½ cup powdered milk                                                                                        ½ cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon yeast                                                                                             1 tablespoon sugar

3 ½ teaspoons salt                                                                                              about 6 cups flour

1 cup cornmeal

In a large mixing bowl add sourdough starter, water, powdered milk, oil, yeast, sugar, salt, and about 2 cups of flour.  Using either mixer or spatula continue mixing in flour 1 cup at a time and then knead until a slightly sticky, satiny smooth dough develops.  Cover and leave to raise for about 2 hours.

Sprinkle some of the cornmeal on a dry counter or table and roll out the dough until it’s about an 1 1/2 inches thick.  Cut out with a round cookie cutter or a wide mason jar ring.  The jar ring makes a really nice sized muffin.  Cut the muffins as close together as possible because the dough that is gathered and rolled out again will have cornmeal throughout and the first ones will be the best ones.


Leave the English Muffins to raise on the counter, covered with a cloth, for about 1-2 hours depending on the heat of the kitchen.  They will just about double in height.


Preheat a griddle or fry pan.  Sprinkle on some more of the cornmeal to keep the muffins from sticking and fry on both sides until dark brown.  Be patient and keep flipping them over so that they can bake all the way through without burning the outsides.  When that batch is done, remove to a baking rack and continue with more until they are all baked.  Cool completely before packaging.

Store in the refrigerator or the freezer and slice in half before using.  Toast in toaster or in a skillet, cut side down to best bring out the tanginess of the sourdough.

I hope you enjoy trying out sourdough.  It really is one of my favorite ways to bake.

Gramma’s surgery went really well.  She did develop a rapid heart rate that persisted for several hours after surgery and really had us worried for a while.  Through the skilled care of health professionals and the grace of God, she is doing a lot better the day after surgery and was up moving around her room today.  We are so grateful for that.   She will do great now, I’m sure!



Rhonda Brown lives in rural eastern Montana, surrounded by her family, chickens, gardens and dog. When she isn't writing or weeding, she loves spending time with her family, baking, and all things CHOCOLATE.


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