The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Potato water

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Janet Yang's picture
Janet Yang

Potato water

The first place I ever read about starter was not in a cookbook or other non-fiction text, but in a historical novel:

…Amanda Whipple was up at five, teaching Mun Ki how to cook American style, and she was impressed both with his clever mind and his fearful stubbornness. For example, on each Friday during the past four decades it had been Amanda’s ritual to make the family yeast, and for the first two Fridays, Mun Ki studied to see how she performed this basic function in American cookery. He watched her grate the potato into a stone jar of almost sacred age and add a little salt and a lot of sugar, after which she poured in boiling water, allowing all to cool. Then, ceremoniously, she ladled in two tablespoonfuls of active yeast made the Friday before, and the strain continued. For forty-three years Amanda had kept one family of yeast alive, and to it she attributed her success as a cook. She was therefore appalled on Mun Ki’s third Friday to enter the cookhouse full of ritualistic fervor, only to find the stone jar already filled with next week’s yeast.

With tears in her eyes, she started to storm at Mun Ki, and he patiently listened for some minutes, then got mad. Flashing his pigtail about the kitchen he shouted that any fool could learn to make yeast in one week. He had been courteous and had studied for two weeks and now he wanted her out of the kitchen. Not understanding a word he was saying, she continued to mourn for the lost yeast, so he firmly grabbed her shoulders and ejected her onto the lawn. On Monday the new batch of yeast was as good as ever and she consoled herself philosophically: “It’s the same strain, sent forward by different hands.” Suddenly, she felt the elderly white-haired woman she was.

—James Michener, Hawaii

Note that she did not use flour to maintain the yeast. I suppose she wanted to reserve her supply of flour for actual bread, instead of discarding it as unused starter. If I'm interpreting correctly, it took three days to get from potato water to a dough that was ready to be baked. Saturday was for building a flour-based starter, then the dough had a long, slow rise—being a missionary, she wouldn't have worked on Sunday—and baked on Monday.  Janet
dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

No need for flour a the grated potato is plenty of food - a great starter.  I feed my starter potato flakes and water along with Oat flour on an irregular basis to keep it in tip top shape and on  its toes .  Both potato and oats do wonders for starters and SD bread even in small quantities.  Now I feel old as  since my starter is 40 years old, at least part of it is from some day in September 1973.  I didn't take care of it all that time - about 2 years in the middle my Mom did. 

Thanks for the memories.

Janet Yang's picture
Janet Yang

After reading your post, I just had to try the potato water. Not sure I got it right (how much is "a little salt and a lot of sugar"?) by mixing a small amount of my flour-based starter into five times as much potato water. No signs of life so far—the yeast may have died from culture shock—but I'm aerating it every few hours. 

I didn't take care of it all that time - about 2 years in the middle my Mom did. 

The mom usually ends up taking care of the kids' pets. :)

Janet

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

when trying to get the starter going (or in maintenance mode like Amanda did).  Potato starter is very vigorous when doing its thing and does have at least a tsp of salt in the starter mix.. 

There are two kinds of potato starter I have tried.  One is cooked that doesn't actually start with potato and but uses corn meal, milk, sugar and salt for the first 4 days instead - then potato, potato water and more salt and sugar are added - no flour is used  The other one uses raw potato in the beginning with water, salt, sugar and flour too.  We don't known which kind Amanda had but either work well and mine were eventually folded into the starter I have today like so many other starters were over the years were over the years.   So my starter is old, but also young and refreshed with at least 4 different starters folded into it - just in the last 2 years -)

Have fun with your potato starter.

Janet Yang's picture
Janet Yang

At first I assumed that the purpose of adding salt was to prevent mold or some other undesirable microorganism. Since then I've started reading Bread Science, where Emily Buehler says that salt makes it harder for yeast to take in water and sugar, so fermentation slows down. 

Is the salt supposed to slow the yeast activity so the food supply will last for a week? 

Janet