The Fresh Loaf

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Wooden bowl permeated with sourdough starter culture from years of use? Myth?

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clazar123's picture
clazar123

Wooden bowl permeated with sourdough starter culture from years of use? Myth?

I have read about this on several occasions. I have seen it referred to and I wonder if there is anyone that has actual expereience with this or is it a myth?

It is supposed to be that a wooden bowl used to make sourdough bread for years and years was so "innoculated" with the starter culture that flour and water could be mixed in the dry bowl with NO additional starter and it would ferment. There is no detailed information I have ever heard so I can't fill in any details but the implication was that daily bread was made.

This would make a rather unexciting episode on "Myth Busters" TV show.

linder's picture
linder

Could be true.  I do know that I cannot use my wooden spoon used for mixing bread dough when making cheese or the cheese will develop little holes and even poof out on the sides from wayward yeast on the spoon multiplying in the maturing cheese held at 55F temp. I now use a stainless steel slotted spoon when stirring the milk for cheese.  So, I guess it could be that if you make bread in a wooden bowl often enough the yeasties could permeate and proliferate enough to raise the dough in a fresh batch of bread dough.

Linda

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

If I recall correctly, Daniel Leader's book "Bread Alone" describes how he got a sourdough culture from an Eastern European grandmother. The story goes that she told him the culture lived in her bread mixing bowl and it had survived the emigration to the US. It was supposed to be a flavorful and vigorous culture.

I don't have a copy of the book so I can't quote chapter and verse but perhaps someone will chime in to either correct or support my memory.

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

He grew up in a rural part of Hungary (dad's now 80 yo) and has vivid memories of his mother baking at least 6 huge rye loaves every two weeks, using a wooden kneading trough intended just for bread.  I suspect sanitation in those pre-electricity days was fairly rudimentary, so it would be nearly impossible to get the trough perfectly clean; I'm thinking there had to be bits of dormant wild yeast lurking in the crevices of the trough.  But Nana was not taking any chances with her sourdough being weak; she always used a rye starter to make her bread.

Which poses a question Dad and I'd like answered: Nana's rye starter was a ball of old dough that was permitted to dry out.  The day before baking, she would crumble the old dough into lukewarm water and let it sit overnight to revive.

Anyone familiar with this technique or know of recipes using a "dehydrated" old dough starter?

BTW, Dad mentioned that Nana had another wooden bowl used just for mixing pastries (typically straight yeast sweet wheat doughs).  So Clazar, there may be something to your theory...Nana didn't want her Perec (Challah-like bread) or Makos Kalacs (poppy-seed roll) tainted with rye sour!

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

moist. It is the principal I use to transport my rye starter from one country to the next. See traveling starter mini oven. I would also use a starter. Reviving a dried starter takes much longer than a semi dry one.

If you take some of your rye dough or starter and add more rye to make a stiff dough, roll that in some flour to coat and let the surface dry, you end up with Nana's starter.

samf526's picture
samf526

I was reading about "anti-bacterial" properties of wood as I was considering buying a big wooden pastry/cutting board a while back, and it sounds like it could be relevant to the conversation.

There is a lot of information that says wood has a tendency to absorb bacteria (and probably yeasts too?), like water, towards the center of the wood.  Bacteria can live here and multiply to some extent, but will eventually die off, and most importantly -- won't be released back to the surface of the wood (so there's little chance of cross contamination).   From this infromation, it sounds possible that bacteria and yeast from a sourdough culture could have permeated the wood after years of use.  And given that not too much time has passed (i.e., not enough time that the bacteria die) after the last use, it seems as if it could be possible (based on the available information) for some of the starter culture to 'infect' an unseeded batch of dough.   

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I revived a 40 yr old packet of Sourdough Jack that was in all kinds of hot and cold conditions.I found the packet at a flea market on a 90F day in the original dark brown ceramic container with a tag-all dusty and dirty.  Today it is my favorite and very hardy starter. I have also since dried starter by rubbing some active starter with enough flour to make a "dry" mix and then used it at a later time so Nana's story of using dried rye starter is entirely plausible to me.

I would still like to talk to someone that has actually done this. Or maybe... I just recently obtained a new wooden bowl. I might just have to try this myself!  :)

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

I've been reading Faviken, the cookbook about the eponymous restaurant in Northwestern Sweden run by Magnus Nilsson.

Two-thirds of the way through, in a section entitled "Grains" and under the subheading "Wheat," I find it (and I quote):

"[our] bread is prepared in an old baking trough that used to belong to my grandmother.  The trough is impregnated with yeast cells and lactobacilli, so we do not need to add any cultivated yeast to the dough to help it rise."

Two pages later he offers the recipe for the restaurant's signature bread: "to prepare the starter, begin by removing any loose debris from your baking trough with a brush....pour a little water into it and whisk in some flour...leave the mixture overnight in a warm room, uncovered.  The water in the mixture will loosen the old, dried pieces of starter stuck to the sides of the trough and within the pores of the wood and awaken the microorganisms.  The flour will feed them and time will do the rest."

He also provides info on the special care a dough trough needs: to avoid cracking the wood from too rapid drying in a heated house, Nilsson suggests " when you have finished using it, just scrape out any remaining dough out of the trough and leave it in an outhouse where it will dry out gradually."

In perusing the 270 pgs of this book, I noted a few places where the Swedish did not translate well into English.  So I am hoping beyond hope that Nilsson meant an outbuilding  and NOT an outhouse.  Otherwise I think we might be playing with a whole 'nother set of microorganisms...

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

This may take a few days.  The word "time" being nonspecific.


It can also be that the pH of the bowl inside surface is lower than the flour or water so that when water is added, that "sweet spot" pH for the yeast growth arrives sooner. If you do check out this myth, do keep tabs on your water pH before it hits the bowl and after a few hours. Also after additions of flour. Would be a neat experiment.

Of course one needs a control, the same experiment in a glass bowl.

attaboygirl's picture
attaboygirl

Reading through this thread my mind keeps wondering if there is a certain type of wood that should be used.  I would think it would be some type of hard wood.  I see a science project with wooden bowls on my countertop happening.  Any ideas?

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

Yeasts and fungi in general are among the living things richer in trealose, a "magical" sugar that permits survival in absence of water and  at very high or very low temperatures.  Dry yeast survive without water for the same reason.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

http://www.woodbowl.com/

This is who made my wooden bowls.I believe they are birch. I found the 4 bowl set at a local thrift store for about $12.I almost fell off my chair when I saw what they cost new.

I revived a 40+yr old sourdough starter packet of the original Sourdough Jack so I thought it might be fitting to give some of his offspring a heritage home in an Alaskan bowl. I wonder how long it would take before it becomes self sustaining to raise dough? I should make some dough and allow some to dry in place and use Nilsson's suggestion to "scrape the bits" and add water and flour to activate.

I never would have guessed a Swedish origin for something like this!  Thank you for that tidbit!

 

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

sells bowls like that for very cheap, something like 5 euro. At least in this side of the universe, of course.