The Fresh Loaf

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How is it possible my starter just died?

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althetrainer's picture
althetrainer

How is it possible my starter just died?

I have been using my wild yeast starter for a bit over 5 months now.  Week after week my starter served me right and each loaf came out perfect.  I used it last Sunday to make two loafs; fed it, let it rest for an hour,  then put it back in the fridge.  I was scheduled to leave home for 9 days today so I thought I would make two more loafs before making a stiffer starter and leave it in the fridge for 9 days. 


Last night, I made a sponge and this morning it didn't look super active but the bubbles were there.  I thought the kitchen was too cold because we have been having cold and stormy weather.  I let it sit for an extra hours (total 12 hours) then made a dough before going to work.  I came home three hours later and rezlied the dough didn't rise at all.  Once again, I thought the kitchen was too cold  so I popped the dough in the oven with a pan of hot water.  After 1.5 hours, nothing changed! 


I knew then it was the starter so I quickly went to check that one cup starter I put in the fridge last night, it didn't look so good.  Smelled it, very weak.  Since it was time to leave I just fed then let it sit in room temperature for another two hours while I drove. I just got to my destination, looked and smelled it again, worse than before.  It now looks like flour in water and smells like flour and water! 


Since I always took care of my starter in the same manner, I don't think I killed it.  But how is it my starter just decided to die? I thought about putting some commercial yeast in it to kick start but I captured the wild yeast five months ago and would like to go on without commercial yeast.  Is there a way I can try to revive my poor starter?  Or am I doomed to have to start it over again




Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

or failing that, some whole wheat. These help to perk up sluggish starters.


I would also recommend you NOT discard any until it shows signs of improving or you may be diminishing the already very small (possibly) population of yeasties in there.


You don't mention what feeding ratio you're using, volume or weight, if there's been a change in the water, (i.e. if your community has boosted the chloramines in the water supply to fight some recent contamination) etc. so if any of that is the culprit, we won't now.

Jw's picture
Jw

I had a similar mishap a while ago, it was the smell that should have warned me. Normally I get a really sour smell when I open the jar, that time it smelled more yoghurt like. I cannot help you with the cause for your mishap (temp, some other bacteria), this is what helped for me:

I started 'force feeding': split my starter, feed it, split it again, feed it. I believe 3 times a day, for three days. That brought back the sour smell, then I grew the starter again.

A while back I had frozen part of my starter (see link), that helped to revive that part of the starter as well.

BTW don't feel too disappointed (like I did), see it as a learning experience!

Cheers,
Jw.

althetrainer's picture
althetrainer

Thanks rainbowz and Jw! I really have no ideas what happened to my starter.  There was no change in my feeding pattern... unless like what you said, rainbowz, the water had more chemicals in it. On the other hand,  I also make kefir (both milk and water) at home but didn't notice any difference.


I grabbed a bag of whole wheat flour from my pantry when leaving the house so I have enough supply of flour for the next 9 days of feeding. If no improvement I will try finding rye flour in a local grocery store.


Anyway, I fed it again last night then I put a couple of raisins in it.  This morning I checked and there were some bubbles and the smell was stronger.  I am not going to throw anything out.  Will split the starter then start feeding both, one with the rasins from last night and one without to see what's going to happen.  I was going to use grapes but I couldn't find any grapes in the house where I am staying so I used raisins instead.  Will feed it three times a day to see if there will be any improvement in the next 48 hours.  Keeping my fingers crossed.



merkri's picture
merkri

How long are you letting it set at room temperature before you put it in the fridge (i.e., how long between you take it out and put it back in)?


I ask because my understanding is that the cool fridge temps inhibit yeast activity, but not some types of bacteria (which give sourdough its sourness, at least partially).


I sort of wonder if you leave it out long enough after feedings before putting it in the fridge.


I let mine sit for a day after I feed it before putting it in the fridge.


Then again, everything can get sick. Maybe your yeast just caught something, or as others have suggested, maybe something changed in your water suddenly.


It's got me worried about my water now, to be honest.


I try cleaning out my sourdough pot every few months, just to make sure it's in a clean vessel.

althetrainer's picture
althetrainer

merkri, I let my newly fed starter sit in room temperature for one hour before putting it back into the fridge.  I don't like leaving it out for too long because I maintain a high hydration starter. The funny thing is... I don't usually wash the container when I feed my starter.  I just do a quick whip around the mouth and the outside, use a spetula push everything down to the bottom of othe jar.  When I fed my starter last time I did clean the jar, thinking it had been a while.  Isn't that ironic?  The time I cleaned the jar, the starter went flat!


Anyway, I fed the starters again this morning.  The one with raisins grew well but the one without grew even better.  Four hours later, I fed them again.  This time I split them into three bowls.  Now I have two without raisins (1/2 cup and 3/4 cup each) and one with the raisins (about 1.5 cups).  The bubbles are coming slowly but it's the smell that I was happy about... began to smell more like my old starter.  I will feed them one more time before going to bed.  Tomorrow I will save just 1/2 cup of the active starter, feed then store away.  The rest of it, including the raisins, will be used for pancakes for beakfast.  Any extra I will make muffins to give away.



Pablo's picture
Pablo

"clean the jar" - soap residue?


:-Paul

bwaddle's picture
bwaddle

I'm so glad for you. You might consider drying some of the starter instead of throwing it away in case you have another visit from the Sourdough Death Fairy!


Bettie


 

Jw's picture
Jw

LOL! I would rather name her the Sourdough Death Witch. Fights with the Knight of Rising bread. (I guess you could rename those two as well into Devil and Maid).

Cheers!
Jw.

bwaddle's picture
bwaddle

The other day after I'd put a loaf in to bake, I found myself humming, "Rise up, oh men of God!" Can't remember if that helped or not!


B

althetrainer's picture
althetrainer

Thanks Bettie!  I thought about freezing some of it but I will have to wait until I get home.  How do you dry the starter?  Will it be more effective drying than freezing? 


bassopotamus's picture
bassopotamus

What I use for back up is just some I don't mess with in the fridge. About once a month, when I feed, I will take some of my discard and throw it in a container in the fridge (and toss the old back up). I had to use it once because I dropped my main starter and broke the container, and couldn't be sure I got all the plastic shards out of it.

bwaddle's picture
bwaddle

Use a spatula to spread the starter on waxed paper, parchment paper, or (what I use) the liner of a cereal box. I leave it overnight in the oven, letting the heat from the pilot dry it. If you are using an electric oven, the oven light should be enough.


When it has dried, it should be ready to fall off of the paper. I grind it up a bit and put it in a zip lock bag or clean jar. I like drying better than freezing, since I can just spoon out a tablespoon or so when I need it.


Bettie


 


 

althetrainer's picture
althetrainer

Thanks Bettie and bassopotamus!  I will give it a try when I get home.  By the way, I used the extra starter to make some blueberry muffins this morning.  They turned out pretty good.  Now I am trying to make two loafs of sourdough bread without my mixer.  I had forgotten how much more work it was doing hand kneading LOL  but it's good to do that once in a while.  I should know if the starter is strong enough to rise two loafs by this afternoon.

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

I have a starter that originated from KAF that I have been maintaining for about 2 1/2 years, and right now it is right where I like it in terms of sourness, rising power, etc. So I decided to dry some of it, as a backup.


The drying went fine, and now I have a nice  pile of flakes. Any suggestions from those of you who have done this with regard to storing this little insurance policy? I'd be happy with a glass jar, a baggie, a baggie in a jar, etc -- in the fridge, the cupboard, the freezer?


What have other folks done that worked?