The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

"Antique" sourdough starter??

tangybread's picture

"Antique" sourdough starter??


I recently purchased a Sourdough Jack cookbook from a local library book sale. The copyright info suggests that it was printed in 1966...and there is a package of dried sourdough starter still attached to the book.  Does anyone know if it would still be safe to use?

The package said it was 65 years old (so if that was 1966, that makes it 108 years old now) and i'm very intrigued about using it.  Also, I haven't been able to find much about Sourdough Jack Mabee, other than book listings and references to his recipes.  Does anyone know more about him? I'm assuming he has gone to that great Sourdough sponge in the sky by now...his picture in the book looked old then and that was 43 years ago.



madzilla's picture

Oh Wow! That is so neat. I can't wait to read what the experts have to say about that. I would think if it isn't moldy, still dry and loose, and looks like yeast, then go for it!


kmscott's picture

   The age of the starter only counts when it is in liquid form. When it is dry and packaged it stops aging. My starter has been in liquid or working sponge form for over 120 years.

Wild-Yeast's picture

I have this book too. It was evidently self published or close to it.  I'll have to dig it out of the library and have a fresh look at it.  I remember that he covered a lot of lore of the Alaskan soudough with recipes popular around gold camps during the Gold Rush there. 

Unless you want to keep the packet as part of a set I'd take a chance at making a starter out of it.  Use the starter insturctions here:

Mix the packet with the Day 1 flour and water mix.  If it's sourdough it should take off within a day. 

I remember that there was a kit that came with the set up that included a small plastic vessel for the sourdough with a metal clamp lid closure mechanism. . . ,


fugalh's picture

Probably no harm in trying it. If you haven't already, though, let me recommend not using the whole packet. Just a tiny bit and appropriately tiny amounts of food to start with are necessary - then you could try again if the first one doesn't work, or keep the rest with the book for whatever sentimental or monetary value it may have.

leucadian's picture

The yeast might survive, who knows. The problem is that if you use flour straight from the bag (and especially if it's whole-grain) the yeasts and bacteria in the flour may be more numerous and certainly more healthy than your dried starter. I would try to sterilize the flour before adding the dried starter. This should be easy to do, by adding boiling water to the flour to bring it up to a high enough temperature to kill the micro-organisms. You could also roast it in the oven, I suppose. Then proceed with Debra Wink's method of acidulating the mix with pineapple juice.

For some reason this doesn't seem to be a popular idea, and starters are usually revived using regular flour from the bag. Presumably the added dried starter overwhelms the native bugs, and you get what you expected. But in this case, your dormant yeast and bacteria are likely to be severely degraded, and they may not be able to establish themselves.

I'd also use small amounts of flour and liquid, and save some of the dried starter in case the first try doesn't work. Just to prove that you did succeed in sterilizing the flour, make two other starters, one with some of the boiled or baked flour, and another with some flour straight out of the bag.

We will be interested to hear how your starter turns out. By the way, the waffles he describes are wonderful, mostly because they're yeasted, although the SD does add some flavor. Crisp and light; make sure you use the highest heat setting on your waffle iron.


fugalh's picture

If the dried start is still viable, and you don't overwhelm it with too much food (doubling or tripling the flour should be fine), then there's no need to worry about the critters in the air or on the flour. If it's not viable, then you'll know that before the critters establish a start.

There's certainly no need for pineapple juice—that's for starting a new start. If you get nasty leuconistic stuff, then the start wasn't viable and you might as well abort.

Here's what I'd do: 5 g of the stuff, 5 g water. Let that sit for say 10 minutes, then add 5g water and 5g flour. See if anything happens within 12 hours. If nothing at all happens, declare it dead. If it comes to life, feed it as normal at least 2 more times or until it can double within 6–8 hours at 75°F.

clazar123's picture

Last fall I found a "Sourdough Jack" cheese-type jar with the metal bail/clamp for the top at a flea market-label and tag looked new and there was a packet of starter and a booklet inside. For 25 cents, I thought I'd see what happened as I was just getting in to sourdough. Being a chilly fall and being a beginner, I decided to wait til the summer so I would know more about sourdough and have a warmer kitchen-quite chilly in the house til about June.So, I haven't tried reviving it yet but plan on starting soon.

So, I, too am going to be trying to revive an old culture and now feel more confident about succeeding. I do agree that the local yeasties will probably overwhelm the specialized yeasts eventually. I think that happens all the time.

We can probably take a lesson from the beer industry-they culture specific organisms for different flavors and "bank" them so the original does not get contaminated by other strains. If we want to stay true to one strain of sourdough, we probably need to do the same.I don't know how to do that on the homefront, yet. Brewers just order more from the "bank".The yeasts do come from the flour so I wonder if there is a way of handling that. We have a regular poster here(Debra Wink) who is very knowledgable and I hope she chimes in.

MAybe we should look into how to maintain a pure yeast culture for these special beasties.

Anna K's picture
Anna K

No problem with the old starter. I first purchased this in Knott's berry farm in 1957. Have had it in the frig ever since and it is still a winner for pancakes, bread, and fruit cake.

Latter on when in the deli business I also sold the dry packets of starter plus the brown jars and also the cook book which I still have. In other words "go for it".

Good luck and post your results. Sourdough Joe in Florida, Anna's father.

althetrainer's picture

I can't wait to hear the reports.  Please keep us posted.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Dried starters tend to already have a low pH. 

After weighing and hydrating a small amount of the starter with water (twice the weight of the starter) for about 1 hour, stirring briefly every 10 minutes to dissolve and mix the culture.  Check the pH or taste it for sourness.

If it is above 5, I would add some pineapple juice (not more than double the water amount) to lower it and then a small amount of flour (same weight as the dried starter) to feed it.  This would prevent an invasion from other bacteria and give the starter a good environment to multiply. 

If the pH is low, and it tastes sour, then there is no need to use pineapple juice.

Chances are good that the dried starter was mature when dried and contains very little available food.   Watch the starter carefully marking the levels and taking notes.  Stir gently in the first few hours, on the hour, to circulate culture.  A thin culture will not rise much but bubbles should form and it should look foamy.


tmille's picture

You could send some it to Debra Wink... She can test it as a only a microbiologist could.  It would be interesting to see what it tests like without adding any outside influences.

Keep us posted!


tangybread's picture

First of all, my apologies for taking so long to post again...I do not have internet at home, unfortunately.

Thank you all for the wonderful suggestions, unfortunately, the starter was dead as a doornail.

It has, however, got me very interested in sourdough (the real kind) and I am looking into purchasing or somehow procuring a delicous strain!

althetrainer's picture

It would be wonderful if you could get that old starter going.  I am a sourdough newbie.  I grew my own wild yeast starter using SourdoLady's recipe.  Took me almost 10 days to see the initial actions but the moment I saw the happy bubbles, it was such a big excitment that I almost hyperventilated.  It has been a few months and I have not touch the bag of yeast since.

You can find the recipe on TFL but to make it easy for you, here's the link:

marieJ's picture

How thrilling!!  Like every one here, I can't wait to hear what happens!

We're all saying 'just go for it', but I agree with fugalh. If you want to keep the preserved starter with the book for nostalgia value, then I wouldn't try to activate it.  But I must say, we're all clearly waiting with baited breath to see what happens.  Thanks for sharing this lovely experience with us...........Please keep us posted..

marieJ's picture

We're dying to know......................................................:-)

tangybread's picture

i thought i had posted something a while ago...and scrolling thru i did see my "update", which i am sad to report was that the starter was dead as a doornail! i am going to keep my eye out for more of those cookbooks tho, who knows...maybe one will have survived somewhere!

i was so hoping to report that i had made a delicious loaf of 1965 sourdough (:

ah well, that's how it goes sometimes...

davidg618's picture

I'm surprised it didn't work. Beer has been sucessfully fermented from dried yeast found in ancient Egyptian tombs: approximately 2500 years old.

David G.

MzD's picture


I just sucessfully revived my SD jack starter at the begining of the year. I live close to SF and found it in an antique shop stored in a cool dark drawer. The starter was in a labeled and stapled plastic baggie with an unpostmarked envelope and pamphlet with directions, indicating that it was most likely purchased in SF at his resturant or other gift shop. It also looks to be one of the earlier versions since it does not include cornmeal.

It is my favorite starter. Innitially the aroma was pleasantly reminiscent of rye or pickles. It has mellowed and now has that wonderful SF sourdough flavor and aroma I have been looking for. I couldn't be happier.

I made a classic newby error, I made my starter too thin and I couldn't catch when it rose. It rose very little very quickly. It showed signs of life by the fact that it was somewhat thickened on the top layer and devloped some teeny-tiny surface bubbles. Once I thickened the starter by using a bit flour at it's next feeding, I could easily and measureably see the activity. It took about 3-4 days of growing the starter at the proper consistency before it would double in approx 5 hours. It now doubles at about 3.5 -4 hrs. It also doesn't produce as much hooch under refridgeration as my other starters.

The starter has a very fine grain. I used a very small amount of the dried starter so that I had plenty for back-uo. To reduced the chances of "contaminating" the original starter I used gold medal bleached all-purpose flour and bottled drinking water, to 1/8 tsp starter. I thought I had a good pancake batter thickness (50/50 by volume), but it worked best at a "thick pancake batter consistency" (25/75).

Right now I am looking for information on how Jack made his dried starter. My understanding is that he diligently worked at a method that would maintain the characteristics of his starter so that he could share it with the world. My assumption is that he dried the starter and added a whole-wheat/rye flour, but how he got it so fine without destroying the natural yeast is beyond my perception.

Phil_in_NM's picture

Hi all,
About 10 years ago, I successfully reactivated a packet of this starter from a book I bought on Ebay. It was my favorite... until this year when I moved across country and it didn't survive the move..:(
If anyone has a viable SD Jack culture going who would be willing to send me a live noodle, I'd really appreciate it.
Email me off forum and I'll provide snail mail, etc.

Bowmonk's picture

I remember my mother recieving Jack's book along with a live starter from my father's aunt back in about 1971. I am pretty sure she has kept it alive all these years too. I had a starter from it for many years and the same thing happened to me as well. When I was in the middle of moving the starter was destroyed. I will have to find out if hers is still alive. I have since made my own starter from crushed grapes and whole wheat flour, later feeding with unbleached white flour. It's come along very nicely :D

Phil_in_NM's picture


Forget my request, I found some dried starter I had put away about a year ago and forgotten about and it's now goinf gangbusters!



clazar123's picture

I posted above 2 yrs ago and I just now revived the starter packet I had bought at a flea market. My jar had instructions for adding flour and water, letting it sit at room temp for 48 hours and then using it. Holy cow! After 24 hours it was bubbling away and doubled! I couldn't quite believe it.  I have just mixed up a basic bread dough (no additional yeast) and we'll see what happens.

msbreadbaker's picture

Well, how did the bread turn out? The last post was in August when you made it, so we are on the edge of our seats!

inthewinecountry's picture

Keeping the thread alive. I too found an old Sourdough Jack  booklet in a used bookstore in Grass Valley Ca. ( book's original designer was in next town Nevada City).  Booklet says it is from 3rd printing 1961 and still has original dried sourdough packet in it. Original owner had also kept a flyer from Skagway trading company on their sourdough starter, and old sourdough Jack postcard that says send "cash"! to order, and a clipping from San Jose Mercury news from 1978 on sourdough starter. Booklet says first printing was Dec. 1959 This was a bit of nostalgia for me as I had purchased a later booklet when I was in High school in the seventy's and made my first bread. Of course after this long I still don't have my original starter and my first booklet fell apart a long time ago. Want to keep this one intact so have no plans to try to revive starter although reading here sounds like it might be viable.


clazar123's picture

My packet did indeed come to life. The starter had a bit of an off smell and flavor-like it was old. It was definitely acidic after 24 hours! It was a little slow to rise the initial loaf and the whole loaf tasted old-almost like old flour. It was a basic French loaf with AP flour. My flour didn't taste old but something in the starter definitely did.

I believe the starter was dried using powdered milk and white whole wheat flour. Since the culture was so active, I decided to "wash" the starter and keep trying. I removed just a teaspoon of starter, fed it with about 1 tablespoon of AP flour and enough water to make a thick batter. (I'm not a measuring person when it comes to starters). I fed it every 12 hours and every day discarded about 1/2 of it. After a few days, I just fed without discarding-it was still very active. When I was satisfied it was robust, I tried a basic French loaf again. It turned out wonderful! But not sour. I believe I got rid of all the old milk powder and flour in this feeding schedule but also probably encouraged more yeast than lacto. growth. So the starter is very nice to use and I have used it numerous times since its original resurrection. Amazing! considering I found it in the hot summer sun, in a dark brown ceramic container at a flea market. It was very dusty so I can just imagine how it had been stored over the years (no controlled environment). It was 25 cents! I thought it was cooked but I am a forever optimist.

So if you find an old starter or dried up starter,you never know-try it!

sophiegrammie's picture

In the 1960's, there was an article in LOOK magazine about Sourdough Jack Mabee. The article told about him and gave his recipes for making your own starter and then using the starter for French bread, extra sour bread, pancakes and biscuits.Sadly I don't have the article, but I have my Mom's hand typed recipes. The starter is super simple to make with only 2 ingredients plus water and the breads are divine. Initially making the starter usually works better in the summer when it's warmer and you can start it outside. It smells wonderful and lasts forever if you use it occasionally and replenish it. If you love bread, you should do this at least once.

LizziTremayne's picture

When I moved to NZ 22 years ago, I was gutted that I couldn't take my 35 year old sourdough culture with me...  I accidentally made some awhile later when I made some yogurt that didn't work and left it, forgotten, in the "hot water cupboard" that most houses in NZ had at the time...  I was belatedly pouring it down the sink when I got a whiff of SOURDOUGH!!!!   Promptly left off what I'd been doing and fed it instead...  it's been going great guns since then. 

Something which may help those who are scared to "lose" their culture or want to keep a particular strain they have obtained: save a portion in a labelled container in the freezer. Has saved a few boyfriends, who happened to be helping me by "cleaning up"... and junking it..

Something which may help those who live in moist climates like North Island NZ, where the natural yeast spores floating around tend to contaminate the culture with alarming frequency is to be sure you always keep it covered with either a close weave, CLEAN cloth, or plastic wrap.  The plastic wrap works better for this.

thanks for all your great comments,



Lizzi Tremayne

writers blog:  I have already written a "sourdough" discussion into the book in January... I'm hoping to have the novel finished soon!

come on by the blog and look under "My Writing" for the first chapter!



LizziTremayne's picture

So, does anyone know where to find this man who has had such an influence on my cooking and my LIFE?

I had to write the book out by hand when I left my mother's home.. I may buy one...

Thanks in advance,


clazar123's picture

The real Sourdough Jack has been dead a long time. Did you mean his starter?

LizziTremayne's picture

Ummm..  Thanks for that. I didn't know he'd been dead a long time. Wanted to thank him for the books!



AuntieBim's picture

Interesting reading everyone's comments!  I've had his book & starter since the very early '60's.  I found this site while trying to find sourdough recipes.  Yes, I have the book--but I had to move a couple years ago and my "helpers" packed up the books I wanted to keep out from storage...guess where Jack went?!!

I've kept my starter in two or three peanutbutter jars, about 1 cup each.  Screw the cap on, then loosen just a bit, and put jar on low shelf in back of fridge.  Many people have said you need to "refresh" the starter frequently if not using it--that is, add flour & water, stir and the throw out half of it!  Sheesh!  I've never tossed any of it out!  The liquor the forms on the top is the "sour" of sourdough!  Of course, if you don't like it tangy, I guess you could "refresh" it...but why?

I had a friend who, late in his lifetime, was diagnosed with ALS.  He eventually had to move in with his daughter & son-in-law.  I used to make sourdough pancakes and waffles every Sunday for their family.  When George moved in with them, he was delighted that he could eat the sourdough waffles (there was so much he couldn't eat, y'see).  In fact, he claimed they were what was keeping him going!  A couple weeks, I even made up new batches of waffles because he had run out of the Sunday leftovers!

Ah well....  I've had my starters sittin' in the 'fridge going on 3 years now, and I so want to use 'em again!  Jack's book was my sourdough 'bible' and I loved the recipes in it.  I guess if I can't locate his book--or his recipes--soon I'll find some time to work out using some other recipe(s).  With any luck, I can get my belongings out of storage soon and won't hafta search any further!

Maybe someone here can share somma Jack's recipes w/me?  Or m'be know of a site where I can find 'em?  I'm not mucha 'puter person, but I'm gonna be checking in here from time to time--if I can make notes how to get here (hehehe)!

Laura T.'s picture
Laura T.

For anyone who's looking to get one for themselves, found this on ebay. Unfortunately I'm gluten-free so can't use :(