The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

I've been a baaad baaad girl. Q. about my super old, unfed starter!

Theresse's picture

I've been a baaad baaad girl. Q. about my super old, unfed starter!

Neglect doesn't seem harsh enough a word!

I was all obsessed with learning about bread-baking and sourdough starters etc. back when the weather was cold.  Then, well, even before the weather warmed up, I went in another direction.  I left a few experimental jars of starter in the back of my fridge for probably a good 4-6 months!  When I came back, about a month ago (?), all but one jar had starter that looked dangerous (blue or black veins running through the rest of them).  One jar though had just dark green hooch on top and smelled just strong but not as bad as I've read it should be if bad.  

So I poured off the liquid, and then even tried spooning off the top layer just to play it extra safe, then I stirred it.  I noticed how exceptionally thick and gummy this stuff was.  Glue-like or bouncy - as if it were already dough.  I then transferred it into another container and then stuck it back in the fridge STILL WITHOUT FEEDING IT (how awful, getting its hopes up like that!!).  Today, I finally came back and measured it out.  It smelled sour and fruity (have only ever used flour and water) and was about a half-cup of starter.    I couldn't remember the rules of starter so I added a cup of flour and a little less than that of luke warm water and stirred it up.  Then I stuck it back in the fridge with loose lid.  This was actually about 45 minutes ago.  Should I go back and take it out of the fridge and let it sit out a day or two?

Main question though: do you think it's more likely safe than not?  Since there were no veins in it?  It was dark green - not black, not pink.  Didn't smell great but not "off," as I've heard others describe the ones that should be thrown out.

Thank you!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It will need some TLC for a few days.  Wait until it peaks before reducing and feeding again.  If you got to the lower light colored layer, it should be alright.  You want to see good activity before sticking it back in the refrigerator.

This first feed may take a day or two to peak and best not to discard the first two days.  Let activity guide you.

Theresse's picture

Thank you both!

Ria's picture

I'm in the same spot. I've laid off the baking for a bit, and the starter has faced neglect. I've done this before, though, and no longer worry about it. A few days of sitting out, with regular feedings, should bring it back.


lepainSamidien's picture

I, too, admit that I have, in my more desperate moments of shuffling through the fridge for a late night snack, perhaps some baby carrots with some fugitive hummus, in these mad diggings, stumbled upon a curious glass jar, the humble abode of some uninvitingly gelatinous substance, like a mixture of dandruff and acetone, atop of which pools a dark, toxic-looking liquid, that has the appearance and smell of nail-polish remover: all signs point to a neglected sourdough starter.

And yet, with a little bit of tender love and care, the old boy has always survived. Usually, I keep a jar of starter in my parents refrigerator so that I can bake with it when I visit them, which happens infrequently at best. Every time I look at the poor guy, I believe that it's finally dead, that I've killed it for good, that even microscopic organisms can feel the sting of neglect deep enough to call it quits. But a nice warm bath with a mixture of rye flour and white flour (starting with high ratio of Rye:White, then easing into a regimen of white), and the colony recommences its bustle.

Humans (or human-like organisms) made it through the Ice Age, so it is speculated. Thus I believe the yeast will rise again. Just make sure they're driving hybrids, or they'll pollute themselves to death.

doughooker's picture

I'm a little worried about those blue and black veins. Are you sure it isn't mold?

I've had starter go moldy before. I threw it out and started from scratch just to be safe.

PetraR's picture

To me it does not sound good, but I never had this happen to my Starter.

I hope someone can tell you if it is still ok.


If you have to start a Starter from scratch, once it is active and happy, you should dry some of it and put it in a freezerbag and freeze it just so that you have a backup.

I have frozen Rye and frozen Wheat Starter just in case.


Spread active Starter on Parchment Paper and put it for 24 hours in an oven with just the light on in the Oven.

Break it in small pieces and put it in a food processor to make it even smaller.

Put it in a freezerbag and freeze.

suambumeri's picture

Oh wow! It does sound a bit scary...
Next time you know you won't have time to look after your starter just dry it. Spread out on a baking sheet and put it out into the sun until it's good and dry. Break it up or pulverise and store in fridge or freezer and you won't have any scary colours developing. I've traveled with my starter this way twice before and it works really great and is safe ;-)

ElPanadero's picture

Out of interest why do you suggest putting dried starter in the fridge or freezer?   Most foods that can be dehydrated, are simply stored in airtight jars or vaccum packs.  Moisture would the enemy here which would lead to mold development and for me,  fridge/freezers often result in air temp changes which can lead to moisture in the container. 

suambumeri's picture

I guess you're right, no need to store in fridge/freezer if properly dehydrated. I tend to store lots of things in the fridge because I live in a tropical climate :-)


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I would also keep the dried starter in the fridge, more likely many stacked up sacks in the same glass.  Just to protect from animals already existing in the fresh flour.  Weevils are always deterred by cold temps.  

Theresse's picture

Thanks everyone!  It turned out GREAT!

Mixinator, you may not have seen the part where I wrote that all but one looked scary with black veins in them.  So one didn't look scary - it just had the dark green hooch on top but no veins.  And it smelled normal after I poured off the hooch (before pouring it off, I didn't want to smell it, so didn't!).

Lepainsamidien - you are funny and a good writer. :)  Thanks for the entertainment!

Anyway I nursed it back to health over 3 or 4 days and it's more alive than it ever was before. :)  I just removed the lid from the cast iron pot in the oven now - to brown the top of the bread I have going.  I'm terrified - good looking as it is - cause I was trying a Ken Forkish recipe that I misunderstood.  He used dry yeast and I thought he used sourdough starter as the yeast.  So after an autolyse I poured the sourdough starter plus too much salt (!) on top of the very-firm glob of autolysed flour/water mixture and it got all braided up and weird when I tried mixing it up.  Plus I'd let it autolyse for an hour instead of 20 minutes!  Hahaha what a disaster.  Usually I do alright but this was bad.  Funny thing though, the bread looks extremely professional to my eye.  Too bad I over-salted it!  I'd be very surprised if it had a decent crumb too cause I was trying so hard to mush all that liquid starter in with the 'braids' of the rest of it! : - 0  I wish I didn't have to wait till it cools to cut into it!  This part is torture.  Ok - the timer just beeped and it looks like I should have taken it out maybe 5 minutes earlier.  Also, the bottom - while hollow sounding - seems very very hard.  Looks impressive, otherwise.  Sigh...  How long do I have to wait before I can cut into it??!