Making a Sourdough Starter

Sourdough Starter Crock

Sourdough Starter Crock

By Cat, June 2011 (Crock, right, by Ronny H.; Photo by Cat)

The following method for making and feeding a sourdough starter is from Essential Stuff Project’s Sourdough Panel Presentation (1), and augmented with notes from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (2), and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon (3).

Making and Feeding a Sourdough Starter

NOTES about sources:

    • Black text is from Essential Stuff Project’s Sourdough Panel Presentation (Cat’s Note, Mar 3, 2022: Essential Stuff’s site will be closing down soon. See reference (1) for info re: saved pdf of the article.
    • Blue text is for notes from Wild Fermentation (2) and Nourishing Traditions (3).
  1. Combine 1 cup non-chlorinated water and 1 cup fresh-ground whole wheat flour (or unbleached white flour). (Wild Fermentation and Nourishing Traditions start with 2 cups each flour and water). Mix it up to a soft slurry. Cover with good quality cheese-cloth or butter muslin, held in place with a rubber band.
  2. Let it sit for a couple days in a warm place (70° – 80°F) until it gets bubbly, although it’s a good idea to give it a stir at least once a day to stimulate the yeast. If no bubbles after 3 – 4 days, find a warmer spot.
  3. When bubbles appear, feed it with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water. After that, for each feeing, remove half the starter (for your compost pile) and feed the remaining starter with equal volume of flour & water (if you removed 1 cup slurry, replace with 1 cup fresh flour/water slurry). Continue this every day for 5 – 7 days. Removing half the volume with each feeding keeps the starter from getting too voluminous. The more you feed it, the more sour it gets. (Wild Fermentation suggests feeding with just 1 Tbsp each flour and water daily for 3 – 4 days. Nourishing Traditions feeds it with half the amount of original flour/water – if you started with 1 cup each, feed it with ½ cup each. It should remain essentially liquid in form – for the next 6 days; it should then be ready for use).
  4. The first time you use it, it won’t lift bread, so make something lighter (like pizza crust or Chapatis). It takes about 5 – 7 additional days for a new starter to make bread (with regular feeding every 2 – 3 days). And each time you use it, always leave 1 cup starter in the jar to keep it going.
  5. Keep starter in a glass or ceramic container, never metal (but you can bake in metal).
  6. From Wild Fermentation: If you use it every day or two, keep it at room temperature and feed with each use. Otherwise, refrigerate it and feed it at least once a week; after feeding leave it on the counter for at least 4 – 8 hours before returning it to the fridge. A day or two before you plan to use it, remove it from the fridge to a warm location to re-activate it.

 Testing my sourdough starter

The original whole wheat starter I got from Ronny at the ESP event eventually became infected beyond recovery. I think this is because I fed it with other flours (spelt, rye, oat) rather than wheat.

Rye starter experiment

Testing Jan 2012 with Rye flour: In this new year, I’m going to make my own starter using rye, since right now that’s the only grain to which I am not sensitive! So on Jan 13, I mixed up 1 cup each dark rye and filtered water in a bowl, but it was a bit too thick, so I added another ½ cup water. Then transferred it to a quart jar and covered it with cheesecloth. Jan 14: gave it a good stir, twice. It seems to be doing well on a trivet set on top of my pilot-light-warmed stove (I keep my house too cool for culturing). Jan 15: It is a bit bubbly on top, so I fed it ¼ cup each rye and water, then returned it to its warm spot. Jan 16: This is the 5th day and it is definitely bubbly today and starting to smell like sourdough, but it has not yet made hooch. I fed it 2 Tbsp each light rye and water in AM; repeated in PM. Soon I’ll have to remove some of the starter to make bread. Jan 17 – 18: continued to feed it 1 Tbsp each water and rye each day, until I would have time to make chapattis. The aroma and bubbliness continue to increase. Jan 19 (8th day): Fed in morning as usual, but also removed 2 Tbsp starter to a bowl to mix up a trial batch of chapattis that I will cook for dinner. See Chapatis for details of this test.

Jan 27: I continued to feed 1 Tbsp each water and rye flour daily (tho I missed a couple days).  But this morning I noticed a thin film on the top that looked like mold. It didn’t smell too bad so I stirred it in and fed it again, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. Jan 28: it had a bad smell so I threw it out. Don’t know how it got sick, but could have been from when I open my sink-side kitchen scrap collector (compost) to add more waste.

Spelt starter experiment

Testing Jan-Feb 2012: New starter with spelt (recommended by Sally Fallon): Jan 29, ground enough spelt groats to mix starter and feed it for a week, about 2 cups. First ground coarse, then ground again at a fine setting. Used 1 cup each whole spelt and warm water. The flour is still more coarse than commercial so it’s hard to tell if I added enough water. In afternoon, a caramel-colored watery layer formed on top, but is not hooch. Stirred it back in but separated again. Jan 30: The watery layer still there, tho now it has a wet floury layer on top and below; the top one is bubbly. I fed it 1 Tbsp each water and flour but decided it needed another Tbsp water. By evening, there was more starter above the watery layer than below, and the upper layer is quite bubbly. Jan 31: By morning, most of the starter was now below the watery layer. I fed it 1 Tbsp each water and flour and gave it a stir. It is starting to get bubbly. Feb 1: Has small liquid layer with even smaller starter layer on very top – bubbly. Fed it 2 Tbsp ea water & flour. Feb 2: Same as yesterday – bubbly, has liquid layer. Fed it 1 Tbsp ea water & flour. Today is 5th day but I don’t think it’s ready to work yet. Feb 3: spooned off some of the liquid, assuming it’s hooch. Decided starter is too watery so fed with 1 Tbsp water and 2 ½ Tbsp flour; now has muffin-batter consistency. But still not ready to work. Feb 4: It hasn’t yet made much of a liquid layer. I fed it 1 Tbsp each water & flour.

Feb 5, 8th day: Fed starter in AM; mixed up chapati dough with cast off at 1:30. Rolled and cooked them at 6:30. The starter behaved well, although I’m still learning how to make chapatis – main concern is how thin to roll them – this time, I think I rolled them too thin so that they turned into crispies. Feb 6: fed in evening, 1 Tbsp each water, spelt. Feb 7: It smells just like bread dough rising! Transferred it to clean jar as old jar was getting rather crusty. Then fed it 2 Tbsp each water & spelt. I’d like to try a small loaf of bread later this week.

Feb 10: last night when I went to feed my starter, it had a crust on the top which I pulled off before feeding. This morning I checked to see how it is doing. It looked like it would start a new crust so I added some water (it was fairly thick) and stirred that in. That’s when I noticed it no longer has that nice sweet yeasty smell. Now it smells like my very first starter that I got at the sourdough event, right before I gave up on it and threw it out. Not really a bad smell (as in moldy), but not sweet and yeasty. I suppose it is a sour smell. I hope it’s OK. Feb 16: I’ve been feeding regularly 1 – 2 Tbsp each water & flour, having to use white spelt a couple days because I was out of freshly ground whole spelt. It showed signs of getting a moldy film at one point but I kept feeding it and yesterday it smelled good again, so I poured it into a clean jar (the old one was getting crusty).

Feb 24-25: made a loaf of bread using the Tassajara sponge method. The loaf is a bit heavy but has wonderful flavor and is not too sour. Also has nice sourdough blisters on the top crust.

June 22, 2012: I continued to feed the starter 2 – 3 times a week. Made another loaf by the Tassajara sponge method, but adding the Autolyse step. It is lighter but still fairly dense. However, great flavor!


  1. Essential Stuff Project (ESP), Sourdough Panel Presentation ( Mar 3, 2022 NOTE: that site will be closing down soon, so I saved it as a pdf (CATSFORK-QTH / PDF FILES > Sourdough-Panel-Presentation-ESP_051811May 18, 2011.pdf. Contact Cat for a copy.
  2. Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz
  3. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD..

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