“In the calculus of economics, doing so [cooking] may not always be the most efficient use of an amateur cook’s time. It is beautiful even so. For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for the people you love?” Michael Pollan, “Cooked”
Sourdough starter is sometimes called other names, such as mother, levain, chef, or maybe more. Some bakers give their starter a pet name. It’s made of flour and water and can be made from scratch at home. If you know someone baking sourdough, ask for a small amount to get your starter started. (or a commercial bakery) You’ll save about two weeks. You can also purchase a starter online. Look for instructions online on creating and maintaining a starter.
Many bakers use bottled water, or dechlorinated tap water. If your tap water smells of chlorine, definitely use bottled or dechlorinate it by either bring it to a boil or let it sit out overnight. The yeasties and LAB don’t like chlorine.
I like to use 100% whole grain rye flour for my starter, but whole wheat is good, also. Even if you intend to use it with white flour (all purpose or bread flour), use whole grain because it makes a more robust starter. Your starter flours do not have to match the recipe flours. If you ever want to change flours for the starter, just feed it with the new flour(s) for a few days. I like how energetic rye is as it expands up the glass wall of the jar. I maintain a 1:2:2 ratio of old starter to flour to water, which gives me a 100% hydration. Unless I foresee needing more volume of starter, when I feed my starter I take out all but 30 grams old starter and add 60 grams flour and 60 grams water, for a 30:60:60 ratio. (You could use a 10:20:20 ratio) If I’m going to need more for a recipe I just add to the above amounts, keeping the same ratio. I save much of the discard starter in a jar in the fridge for when I want to make crackers, pizza crust, or English muffins. But you can’t save it all, or you will need more refrigerators. There are many recipes online for using the discard starter.
In the left photo, you see a nicely expanded starter, about double in size. Notice the rounded top surface. I put a rubber band at the starting level to mark its progress. It’s nice and bubbly, but not quite at its peak.
You will get to know your starter well and will learn how quickly it grows in different ambient temperatures. (I’m told 70F is ideal) You will want to be able to judge about when it hits its peak growth, which is when it is ready to either be fed or to be used in a recipe, The photo on the right shows a starter just past its peak. It is ready to use or to be fed. The top has flattened and fallen slightly. At the top edge you can see the downward slippage on the inside of the glass. There are many very good tutorials online on on starter maintenance. They are not all the same so pick a routine you think you will be comfortable with. You don’t have to feed the starter every day but you will need to if you bake often. Many bakers keep the starter in the fridge and take it out to feed a few days before baking. It is very forgiving, but even so, I also have dehydrated some starter to both use as a backup and to make it easier to share with friends.