Real Food

Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.


4/17/2014

tincture

A few years ago I decided to make Echinacea tincture. I buy a lot of Echinacea tincture to use at the first sign of a cold. I spend $15 on little bottles of Echinacea at the health food coop, but I have Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea) growing right in my own herb garden. This is silly, I thought. I can do this. I can make my own Echinacea tincture. I have heard it is easy to make.

I bought a book about medicinal herbs by Rosemary Gladstar and read all about the easy ways to capture the potency of herbs into easy remedies, such as tea, salves and tinctures. I enjoyed reading and dreaming about it, but it still felt like magic. I thought about it for year. I put it on my to-do list. I thought about it some more. My to-do list included “make tincture” for months, with no practical application of it.

Maybe I need to break down the process. I started writing on my list “dig echinacea herb”, thinking that would do the trick. I’d surely get it done now. 

It didn’t happen. For months it didn’t happen. A bit of inertia going on. Maybe another year went by. I couldn’t seem to do it by myself. I thought if I got someone else involved it might move me along. I would engage an enthusiastic friend into the project. Denise would be into it. I solicited her enthusiasm and together, we dug the roots in the fall. There, step one complete.

The Root of the Problem

I let the pile of roots sit on my porch until they dried into nothing. Abandoned, waiting, waiting, abandoned, until it was a dried up pile of nothing at all.

Another friend, Chris, with six jars of herbs marinating in vodka on top of his frig, had once told me that making a tincture is harder than harvesting and throwing away an herb, but not much harder. He said this as he lovingly rocked each jar back and forth, its contents immersed and feeling very attended to. So Chris says, its barely more work than composting the shriveled up dry roots I had left for dead. Still, they are supposed to impart powerful attended-to energy into the tincture, not emotions of complete abandonment, left on the porch in neglect. I could do better.

The following fall I met Rosemary Gladstar. She is a joy to witness, that woman. It was a pleasure to hear her speak at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. She stood at the table with a pile of herbs that she brought from her home garden and wild medicinals (read: weeds) from the parking lot of the Seven Springs Resort. Now when I dream over her herbal books, I feel like I am sitting in her kitchen garden with her, talking herbs. She brings all the energy of the medicinal garden into her speaking engagements. She makes it seem easy. She gave us a pep talk on the easy process of making a tincture, pouring vodka over chopped herbs and letting it steep for weeks.

Here she is, ready to help you out too, with this youtube video lesson on making Echinacea tincture. And why exactly, was it not easy from the start? Pour vodka over chopped herbs…what exactly was stopping me? How hard could I make this? I put something different on my to-do list: buy a bottle of vodka. I bought myself a bottle of Absolut Vodka, 80 proof. This was already starting to feel more potent.

Now all I needed was the root. And why exactly was that part difficult? It’s right out there in my herb garden. I think this transformation from pretty flowers to medicine is hard to get my head around. I always had a sense of hesitation, just enough doubt to inhibit the process. It just seems a bit surreal that roots and vodka would concoct something potent. And why not? People in the rainforest or down in North Carolina know that you can cut important plants and use them as medicine. I didn’t grow up with anyone around me collecting tree bark to simmer for my headache remedy, or running out to pick some plantain leaves to heal a cut. Why would I trust the jar from the natural food coop more than roots soaking in vodka? Because its $15? Or because it is purchased…from a wellness center?

I needed to truly own the fact that the most potent remedies are natural plants. I may be on to the, um, root of the problem here.

A Barter Faire Rescue

So the contemplation of all this absorbed another month or two. It was late fall and I was attending a barter faire, with lovingly prepared or harvested items for trade by people in my community. A kind woman had her eye on my sweet potatoes and she offered me a bag of dried Echinacea, leaves and stems and flowers intact. I looked up at her, about to decline because I have my own Echinacea to harvest. But there she was in front of me, and there was the bag, almost in my hands and ready to go. She gave me a gentle, wise look, like she had some confidence and experience in the process and she said, “Just chop it up and pour vodka over it. It’s easy.” I took the Echinacea and gave her some sweet potatoes.

I took it home and chopped it up and poured my bottle of vodka over it. The whole $35 bottle of vodka. Rosemary Gladstar told us to talk to our herbs and instill good intentions in them. For weeks I shook and admired my jar of herbs every day that I went into my pantry for something, gently mixing it, giving it a hopeful thought. Some trust.

A vision of healing my family from the earth. From our garden. From our own efforts. That’s very powerful medicine right there. It’s bound to be.

Pouring tincture

Powerful Medicine

Pouring off the liquid from the spent herbs was exciting. It made five or six little jars of Echinacea tincture, which seems to be about a year’s supply for me. I appreciated using my own Echinacea all winter and I gained confidence that it’s the real deal.

So this season I should make another batch for next winter. From my own coneflowers right in my garden. Right? That’s the next step. Sometimes you have to cut yourself some slack and break difficult processes down into baby steps. Even easy processes. Because sometimes the hard part is psychological. The process was easy the whole time, but I had to bust through my own psychological barrier to the truth: plants are good for you and they make good medicine.

Rosemary Gladstar has many books on herbs. Here are the two that I own and love:

Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide (this one is for gardening herbalists)

Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health (this one is for any kitchen herbalists)

Do you have Echinacea in your garden? Try this whole-plant Echinacea tincture:

I read about whole-plant Echinacea tincture in Rosemary’s book Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. Start it this spring and go through the whole season into fall, adding parts of the plant throughout the growing season. In the late spring you add leaves to your jar of vodka, then a few young buds, several summer flowers, then dig some of the root in the late fall to chop and add into the jar.  I like the energy of the whole season and the whole plant that is captured in this tincture. I’m a little doubtful that I’ll harvest four times this season for the whole plant tincture, but I’m ready for the challenge of this next step of commitment.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at Mother Earth News  and Blog.HouseInTheWoods.com, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to www.HouseInTheWoods.com.



4/16/2014

SourdoughAfter I baked my first loaf of bread, I was pretty proud of myself. It may not have looked perfect but I thought that it tasted wonderful. So that gave me confidence to try something new and challenging. To me that meant adding more ingredients!

The recipe that I tried came out of Ed Wood’s Classic Sourdoughs revised A home Baker’s Handbook. I found the Herb Bread recipe and thought this would be wonderful. I had some fresh herbs (which my gardening is neck in neck with my ability to bake or cook) out back that would be perfect for this recipe.

The results were amazing. I have to say it is my favorite bread that I have made yet. I love it with pasta, steak, pork, it just seems to go with anything that you eat. It isn’t an overwhelming taste. You can use fresh or dried herbs. I am learning too that I can change the taste by adding more or changing thing up. I also made too long French type loaves. That is the great thing about this whole baking business, I am learning that experimenting is part of the process. Yield one 1 ½ pound loaf.

Herb Sourdough Bread Recipe

1 cup sourdough culture
1 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp crushed dried basil
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough Proof

Pour the culture into a mixing bowl. Melt the butter and add the milk to warm. Stir in the salt, sugar, thyme, oregano, and basil and stir. Add the butter mixture to the culture and mix well. Add the flour a cup at a time until the dough becomes too stiff to mix by hand. Turn out onto a floured board and knead in the remaining flour until the dough is smooth and satiny.

Or mix and knead all of the ingredients for a maximum of 25 minutes in a bread machine or other mixer.

Proof the dough overnight (8 to 12 hours) at room temperature, about 70°F, in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap (or leave in the machine pan, removed from the machine, securing the plastic wrap with a rubber band). During this time, the dough should double in size in the covered bowl, or rise to the top of the machine pan. After the proof, use a spatula to gently ease the dough out onto a floured board. Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes. If marked flattening occurs during this time, knead in additional flour before shaping.

Loaf Proof

After the 30-minute rest, shape the dough. Flatten it slightly, then lift a portion from the periphery and pull it toward the center. Continue this around the dough mass to form a rough ball, then pat and pull into the loaf shape you desire. Place on a baking sheet or in a bread pan and proof for 2 to 4 hours, until it doubles in bulk or rises nearly to the top of the pan. Proof for the first hour at room temperature and then at 85° to 90°F in a proofing box.

Baking

Place the pan with its shaped, proofed loaf in a cool oven, then turn the temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 70 minutes. Or transfer the loaf to a preheated baking stone in a 450°F oven and bake for 40 minutes. When the loaf is baked, remove it from the pan and let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 to 20 minutes before slicing.

I love this bread with just butter, olive oil, bread dipping oil and the list goes on. It is a good thing that I have these sourdough starters from Sourdoughs International and Ed’s advice because I am a bread lover. It is so fun to learn all these different ways to make bread. Happy baking.



4/15/2014

bread doughIf not now, when? Tomorrow? Next week? For months I had been wanting to invite my sister and niece over to bake pumpkin rolls. They had asked me weeks before Christmas to teach them and I was happy to oblige. Then days turned into weeks, which turned into months. The new year began and reality hit hard. Within a couple of months, I had attended a memorial service or visited a funeral home six times. A brother, two mentors, an aunt, a neighbor, and my daughter’s longtime boyfriend had all passed away within eight weeks. Their time and my time with them, had run out.

Make some memories you will never forget.

Slow Down to Enjoy

You see, time passes so quickly when we don’t slow down to enjoy it. It is measured by seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc. And it passes in its allotted….well, time. Realizing how precious time is and how precious people are, my sister and I selected a date. We rolled up our sleeves and we made pumpkin rolls. If you have ever made pumpkin rolls, you know they can be a little messy. So we made a little mess, but we also made memories. I sent them home with their pumpkin rolls and the only one who was disappointed was my husband because I didn’t save any for him. Because I am the Director of Happiness at Winn Sisters Farm, there were more pumpkin rolls baked the next day.

The lesson that I want to pass on to you is to share your time, but more importantly to share what you know. Most everyone knows that besides reading and writing, I LOVE TO BAKE. I also love to teach. Last summer at the middle school where I work, I taught my students how to bake bread. It was so much fun for me! They mixed, they kneaded, they waited, and then they partook of what I call heaven on earth, warm school-baked bread. They took their loaves home and shared them with their families. Hopefully, that lesson will stay with them for the rest of their lives. When one student came back to the school kitchen to check on his bread he exclaimed, “Ms. Carol, what happened to my bread?”. He had never seen risen dough and thought it was pretty amazing. I feel the same way each time I watch yeast doing its magic.

Basic Whole-Wheat Bread Recipe

bread bowl

The recipe we used at school is one of my favorites. It makes a basic whole wheat bread that is light and satisfying. The recipe makes two medium size loaves of bread and a small batch of cinnamon rolls.

5 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 cups of organic milk
3 tablespoons of honey
3 tablespoons of butter
3 cups of bread flour
3 cups of white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon salt

I dissolve 5 teaspoons of active dry yeast in 1 cup warm water (about 120 degrees) in my bread-baking bowl. My big, clay mixing bowl is perfect for my bread-making because it can be used for mixing and kneading the dough.

I scald 2 cups of organic milk and let it cool to lukewarm.

I then dissolve 3 tablespoons of honey and 3 tablespoons of butter in the milk. Yesterday I used coconut oil in place of the butter for a little diversion and it worked out very well. Either way works for me.

I then measure out 3 cups of bread flour and 3 cups of white whole wheat flour and mix them together in a separate bowl. I add 1 tablespoon salt into the flour mixture. You will need a couple more cups of flour, but I add it as I knead the dough.

After I see the yeast starting to do its magic, I add the milk mixture to the water/yeast mixture. Then it is time to slowly add the flour, 1 cup at a time and mixing as you go. This is where the extra two cups or so of flour will be used. After you have added the 6 cups of flour, add enough of the extra flour so that the mixture forms a nice workable dough, not too sticky.

Now, it is time to start the kneading. I knead my dough right in the bowl, but you can also use your pastry mat sprinkled lightly with flour. Place the dough on the mat, and using the heel of your hands, press the dough away from you and then fold it in half towards you and press again. Kneading will take about eight to ten minutes for your dough to become smooth and ready for it to rise. Place the dough in a bowl that has been lightly oiled on the bottom and sides. Cover with a pastry cloth. I use white linen cloths that are used specifically for my bread escapades.

Raising takes about an hour and then I punch the dough down. I divide the dough in two (for two large loaves) or three equal parts and place in buttered loaf pans and prepare into cinnamon rolls. The dough is then covered with the cloth again and the second rising begins. About an hour later they are placed in a 375 degree Fahrenheit pre-heated oven to bake for approximately 25 minutes. You may brush the tops of the loaves with butter before and after they bake, if you wish.

This bread takes about three hours from beginning to end. Isn’t there someone you would love to spend that time with? Just think of the coffee you could drink and the problems you could solve while you are waiting for that bread to rise, rise again, bake and possibly enjoy right out of the oven. Don’t you think, that now’s the time?



4/15/2014

In response to the article From Field to Flour: How to Grow Wheat in the April/May 2014 issue, reader Jenna Winkeller of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote to us about a homemade device that can make small-scale wheat cultivation far more efficient: a DIY wheat thresher crafted from just a bucket, drill and chain.

“Because threshing wheat by hand is so labor-intensive, it deters some people from growing it,” says Jenna, who, with her husband, Jon, operates Win-Win Farm and has been growing ‘White Sonora’ wheat for three years. “We were wary about continuing to grow it until we put together the bucket thresher. Now I don’t think we’ll ever stop!”

Check out a video of Jenna’s DIY wheat thresher in action below, and head over to Jenna’s post DIY Bucket Thresher for Backyard Wheat Growers on the Win-Win Farm blog to get instructions for assembling your own version of this wallet-friendly, timesaving tool.



4/14/2014

Each season deserves its own brew at the end of the day. A warm Amber catches the autumn glow, dark Stout shields the cold of the winter, golden Maibock welcomes the spring, and crisp Pale Ale quenches summer thirst. The only thing more satisfying than a seasonal brew is toasting to your craftsmanship.

The art of brewing beer has been alluring ever since I discovered microbrew, and that all beer (thankfully) does not taste like Natural Light. The moment I met the Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar, I was in love. Deep, complex, on the verge of romantic, the creamy hazelnut intoxicated my senses. Could I craft a brew this richly rewarding?

I was completely intimidated. My friends had horror stories and stained kitchen ceilings to display their disasters in brewing. The equipment list alone caused eye glazing and attempting to decipher the ingredient list resulted in mental malfunction. To say the least, I quit too many times before I ever started.

After two successful rounds of making hard cider, I was ready to give brewing an actual chance.  By this point, I had collected most of the equipment and had a basic understanding of the science of the fermentation.  The final catalyst for brewing beer was purchasing Charlie Papazian’s book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, for my husband, Jordan. After reviewing the book (and then procrastinating a few more months), we finally crafted our first beer, Cascade Valley Ale. It was everything we hoped for—earthy, lightly hoppy, a refreshing mix of floral tones, a perfect balance of light and dark.  The only problem was the dilemma of wanting to share (aka flaunt) our brew, yet keeping enough in our personal reserves.

At this point, I want to interject an important statement: we are not master brewers!  We have broken the code to the entry level of brewing and want to help simplify the process for you.  Many rounds of beer could have been enjoyed in the time that we wasted on putting our thoughts to action. No more wasted time or beer!

A few simple purchases and steps will have you on your way to a beginner setup for brewing.  Good resources will make your life easier. How To Homebrew  is an excellent online resource.  My go-to guidebook has been The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, as mentioned above.  The book contains clear instructions for brewers of all levels, great recipes, and entertaining facts.   Below is Papazian’s suggested equipment list for beginners.

Basic Homebrewing Equipment

1 3-4 gallon pot (an enameled or stainless canning pot is best)
1 5-gallon or 6 ½- gallon glass carboy
1 5-10 gallon new plastic bucket or trash pail
1 6-foot length of 3/8” inside-diameter clear plastic hose
1 plastic hose clamp to fit 3/8” hose
1 fermentation lock
1 rubber stopper with hole to fit fermentation lock
1 3-foot length of 1 ¼” outside diameter, 1” inside diameter, clear plastic hose
1 large plastic funnel
1 thermometer
1 beer hydrometer
1 bottle washer (optional but recommended)
Lots of bottle caps
1 bottle capper
60 12-oz beer bottles (anything other than screw top bottles will do)
1 bottle Star Stan (for sanitization)

Are you still with me?  Don’t be frightened by the long list.  You can find all of the equipment that you will need at your local homebrew store or online.  Beer bottles do not need to be purchased new.  Friends are typically happy to help collect (for the right fee) or check in with your local bar for non-screw top or even flip-top bottles.  The initial investment for brewing is around $100.  Ingredients will run in the ballpark of $40.  Look at it as a lifetime investment and it’s pretty cheap in the end.

The next step is the fun part!  Find a recipe suited to your taste: pale ale, IPA, brown ale, stout, porter, Scottish ale, Irish red ale, wheat beer varieties, kolsch, lambic, pilsner, bock, doppelbock, helles, or any variety of lager.  According to Papazian, there are up to 35,000 different kinds of beer in the world!  On the flip side, beer is made from only 4 essential ingredients: water, fermentable sugars (traditionally malted barley), hops, and yeast.

As mentioned earlier, my prompting in choosing a recipe is based on the season of the year.  Since the weather is in between winter and spring here in Leavenworth, Washington, the batch we are currently brewing is the Cascadian Spring Snow Golden Lager, adapted from the recipe on pages 181-2 in The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, 3rd Ed.  Even though I found a recipe that caught my eye, I substituted ingredients to make it my own.  Beware, I am one of those people who can never follow the recipe as is.  I view it more as the skeletal framework for my creative endeavoring.  Don’t do as I do, do as I suggest.  And, I would suggest following the recipe precisely for your first brew.  Then if you want to be more risqué, experiment with the combination of hops, yeast, and malt flavors to create your own.  Here is my adapted recipe:

Cascadian Spring Snow Golden Lager Recipe

(Danger: recipe not tasted! Will report results soon.)

Ingredients

3.8 pounds Golden Light dry malt extract
1 ½ pounds Pilsen Light dry malt extract
½ ounce US Saaz hop pellet (boiling): 2.65 HBU
½ ounce Liberty hop pellets (boiling): 2.45 HBU
½ ounce Liberty hop pellets (finishing)
American Lager yeast|
¾ c corn sugar or 11/4 c dried malt extract (for bottling)

Let’s decode the ingredients. Malt extract (typically from barley) is the broken down sugar (maltose) from the grain that is needed to ferment the beer. As you become more advanced in your skills, you can start experimenting with the whole grain for more complex flavors. Hop pellets are whole hops mechanically processed by a hammer-mill, rated in percentage of Alpha units. Boiling hop pellets add bitterness to beer. Typically, the higher the percentage of Alpha, the more bitter the beer. However, the level of perceived bitterness will depend on the style of beer being brewed. For example, a darker beer may have the same amount of Alpha units as a paler beer, but the taste is more discreet. Finishing hop pellets, added in the last 2-3 minutes of cooking the wort, add floral aroma and taste to the beer. Yeast activates the fermentation process by converting the sugars from the malt extract into alcohol and carbon dioxide (making beer).  There are two main types of beer yeast, lager and ale, with many varieties under each type. Corn sugar is added before bottling to prime (carbonate) the beer. Corn sugar may be substituted with dry malt extract for the same result.

Are you imagining the taste of your own brew and motivated to finally give it a shot? Here’s your homework: Purchase or borrow the equipment, find a recipe, and gather the ingredients. If you are willing to share, post the recipe you will be trying!

In the next article, we will walk through the process of cooking the wort, fermentation, racking, and bottling.

Until then, cheers!


4/11/2014

violets

Violets are just about to bloom where I live. I love to see their pretty edible flowers along the shadier paths of local parks and gardens. I also love to see their purple blooms and heart-shaped leaves on my salad plate.

Despite the English idiom shrinking violet, there is nothing shy about this plant. As any gardener who has ever had to weed it out knows, violets self seed prolifically and have knobby roots that are a hassle to weed out. In other words, there really isn’t a sustainability issue with harvesting this pretty but tough little plant.

The violet that you’re most likely to encounter growing wild in much of North America is the Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia, V. papilionacea). It grows in partially shaded areas throughout our parks and in many backyards. All Viola species have edible leaves and flowers.

Although some Native American tribes used violet roots externally to relieve joint pain, taken internally they are a strong emetic (they’ll make you throw up). Not something you want to include in dinner! Stick to the leaves and flowers.

Violet Flowers

Wild violets produce two kinds of flowers. The showy ones that are so pretty on salads are usually purple with some white near the center, but sometimes they are mostly white. They are about 3/4-inch in diameter, grow on leafless stalks, and have 5 petals. The side petals have white hairs near their bases. Later in the summer the plants produce inconspicuous, self-pollinating, petal-less flowers that eventually become three parted capsules that eject the seeds.

You may notice that the violets you find blooming in North America don’t really have a smell. The English or Garden Violet, Viola odorata, is the fragrant one that is used to scent and flavor syrups, gums, candies, etc. As far as I know, it doesn't grow wild in the States.

Cultivated Viola species are one of the most common flowers included in those edible flower mixes you see at the farmers’ markets, and the wild ones have just as many uses. In addition to sprinkling them fresh on salads and using them as colorful garnishes, violets may be candied and made into syrup.

Violet Leaves

Heart-shaped violet leaves are a mild, tasty addition to salads. Unlike dandelion and other wild greens, violet leaves never get bitter. They grow in a rosette pattern, meaning all the leafstalks of each perennial plant emerge from the ground at one central point. There are small pointed teeth along the leaf margins.

There is another plant in that grows in similar habitats, and whose leaves look somewhat similar: garlic mustard. But garlic mustard smells like garlic, and violet leaves don’t really have a smell. The flowers are completely different. And once you get to know both plants you’ll notice that garlic mustard leaves have more yellow in their green, the teeth along the margins are rounder, and the veins are less pronounced on the underside of the leaf than violet’s.

Young violet leaves are partially curled up like a scroll. They unfurl their heart-shape as they get bigger. Fully open violet leaves can sometimes be a little stringy, especially later in summer. For salads, I like to use the tender, partly curled smaller leaves.

You can also cook violet leaves by steaming, boiling or stir-frying them, but keep in mind that when you do so they develop a mucilaginous texture. This is excellent for thickening soup, but otherwise I prefer the raw leaves.

Preserving Leaves

In addition to the decorative candies and the flower syrup I mentioned, dried violet leaves make a mild tea that is good for coughs, congestion, and soothing sore throats. This is an excellent use for the older leaves that are too tough for salad.

To dry them, bundle the stem ends of 8 – 12 violet leaves and secure them with a rubber band. Hang them somewhere away from direct light or heat. They should be crispy dry in a week. Remove the rubber band and transfer the dried leaves to a covered glass jar.

Always be 100% certain of your plant identification before eating any wild plant.

Leda Meredith teaches foraging and food preservation skills internationally. You can watch her foraging and food preservation videos, and find her food preservation recipes and tips. Her latest book is Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries.



4/9/2014

sourdough starterBecause I am new to baking, I figured that it is like anything else that you are new at ... you learn the tricks-to-the-trade after you have pulled your hair out.  So I am helping out the new sourdough bakers with some tricks that I have learned from the experts here at Sourdoughs International.

1. A proofing box is a must. This is one of the very few ways to regulate your temperature correctly.  Sourdough like certain temperatures, especially when activating.  On my proofing box, I have pushed a thermometer through the box mid-way.  Then I can read the temperature from the outside without disturbing it.

2. Sourdough cultures will activate and bubble up, then bubble down. Sometimes we miss it and think that it is not activating correctly.  What you do is, clean off part of the inside of the jar, from the top down to the culture.  That way you know for sure if the culture is activating.

3. Jar size. I use a 1 quart (1 liter) wide mouthed canning jar.  The lid is just loosely placed on.  I also put a wipe board piece on top, so that I can see when the last time I fed it was and which culture it is.

4. Washing the culture. So many times cultures get washed when it is not needed.  If a culture needs washing you will know it.  The smell is very, very rank!  There will be no question in your mind that something is wrong.  The smell of each one of our sourdough cultures from Sourdough International smells different.  The smell may not seem normal but trust me it is.

5. When I heard of sourdough, all I could think of is I will have to stay home for the rest of my life to keep this culture going.  That is not the case.  If you are not going to be using your culture for an extended period of time, put it in the fridge.  It can stay there for several months without any attention.  Then when you need it, get it out and re activate it.  I do recommend re activating it every three months if you aren't using it.

6. Bread machine vs. oven. Like I said, I am new to this baking thing and one of the reasons is that I am not a patient person.  I use the bread machine and have found that it works pretty good.  I don't get the holes in the bread like you would if you bake it but the taste is well.  The crust is also softer than if you bake it.  You will get a perfect loaf of sourdough if you do it the right way, in the oven.

7. Big no to salt. Never add salt to your original starter.

8.  When a recipe calls for sugar, most bakers use white sugar. With sourdough many other sweeteners can be substituted, including brown sugar, corn syrups, and honey.

9. One of the major advantages of doing your own baking is your ability to adjust the recipes to your own health standards.  Wheat, rye, high-fiber grains, oats are a few examples.  Oil may be substituted for butter.  Did you know that a slice of most home-baked sourdough bread contains no cholesterol and less than 150 calories?

10. Another great hint when working with other flours is the ratio.  With rye bread especially. Rye bread: if you use 25 percent rye flour and 75 percent white flour the bread will be quicker rise and leaven.  If you use 50 percent rye flour and 50 percent white flour this is when you get the best taste.  If you use 75 percent rye flour and 25 percent white flour you will get a very intense taste.  Also, when you are using rye flour there is a really different smell.  You will think that you might need to wash it but it is just the unusual smell of the rye and it activates faster.  Whole wheat Ffour; whole wheat flour can be substituted for white flour in most recipes.

11. I have two different converting yeasted recipes to sourdough recipes. Substitute a cup of starter for each package of yeast and then subtract about 1/2 cup of water and 3/4 cup of flour from the recipe to compensate for the water and flour in the starter.  You’ll probably want to play with the ratio between the water and flour and adjust the amount of culture to get the results you want but this is a good starting place.  Or if it calls for 2 tsp yeast, replace it with 1/2 to 1 cup active sourdough starter.

My best advice when it comes to sourdough is to play with it, experiment with it, and try things.

Sourdoughs are amazing things.  Each has its own personality and traits.  I have to laugh at mine sometimes because they react so different to the same treatment.  I had 3 out at one time and working with them.  One took off like a race horse out of the gate (Sourdoughs International's Original San Francisco).  Quick activation.  Fast leavening.  Just wow.  One was average (Sourdoughs International's Giza).  Just took the suggested time and amount of flour and water.  Was happy to be going along at an average speed.  My third one was being slow and moody (Sourdoughs International's Yukon).  It was stubborn to activate.  It wanted more attention.  Didn’t rise as fast.  But it was well worth the wait.

Play with your culture.  Try new things.  Try different flours.  The seasons can affect sourdoughs.  Some like more flour and water than others.  You don’t need to be precise.  Just try and see what works best for you.  This is why I suggest that when you first activate your culture that you split it and keep a back-up, in case you do something that can’t be reversed (which I have done).

By trying and experimenting, you might come across that amazing bread that no one else has ever come up with.  That is the fun in baking with sourdough.  The possibilities are endless.












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