The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

120 Year Old Sourdough Stater

RichieRich's picture
RichieRich

120 Year Old Sourdough Stater

RichieRich's picture
RichieRich

Well......I thought it was and interesting story.

 

RichieRich

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Thanks for the link. I find it fascinating how starters can be maintained indefinitely and one can be baking with a starter today which someone started 120 years ago and it's been cared for ever since. If that's not what bread is all about what is? It's the staff of life.

Portus's picture
Portus

... was supposedly an apple!  Which leads to AYW and other starters, each of which is some sort of biological process.  I suppose then that the Puratos Sourdough Library cannot be much different from The Human Genome or the National Geographic Genographic Projects?  

clazar123's picture
clazar123

LINK 

So here is the link to an interesting article about an archeologist that found yeast preserved in amber for millions of years!    Wow! I wonder what would have happened if he was a baker?

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

and bake a bread from some 45-million-and 7 year-old yeast + 4 months.

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I always love stories about ancient starters, even though I am not sure they are better than a starter that's a few months old.  Still, there is the romance of having a bit of history right there.

If you are interested in old starters, remember The Friends of Carl who make available their 1847 Oregon Trail starter.  Carl Griffith could verify the starter had been in the family since 1847 when they traveled the Oregon Trail and felt it had been in the family longer. 

He gave it away to anyone who asked.  Upon  his passing, his friends continued to give it away.  Just send them a stamped self addressed envelope and they'll send you some dried starter.  I've used it and it is quite good.

More information at the Friends of Carl web page.

 

Dean Winchester's picture
Dean Winchester

I have a packet of Carl's 1847 Oregon Trail starter, got it a year and a half ago but haven't activated it yet. I am waiting to move to a less polluted area where it won't be affected. 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I found a souvenir packet at a local flea market. It was in  cellophane (real cellophane) that was sold in a clay mason jar as a tourist souvenir item-pre bar codes-complete with tag and instruction sheet. I figured it was probably at least 1960's. It was 25 cents at a flea market-dusty and sitting on a table out in the 95F heat. I figured it was worth a shot.

I followed the instruction on activation  and it almost jumped out of the container. However, it was packed with 40+ year old white whole wheat flour and it was rancid. Whew! He hasn't taken a bath in 40+years. I just did a series of flour changes and I am using him to this day.

Have fun!. I just used bottled spring water for feedings and unbleached AP flour. Great culture.

Dean Winchester's picture
Dean Winchester

I cannot wait until I move to a cleaner climate so I can, sounds like a Genie out of the bottle got freed :) 

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I had a packet of Carl's that Carl's good friends sent me.  It turned out, I didn't need it right away so I set it aside and forgot about it.  For over a year.

When I needed it, I found it had not survived the storage.  So, I'd just get a fresh one, they're free after all.

On a related note, Dr. Ed. Wood said he's never had a starter he couldn't revive, which reminds me of Steven King's Pet Semetary.  It was a place where you could bury a dead animal and it would return to life.  Only, it wasn't quite the same.  Some teenagers decided to kill one of their friends (some friends, huh?) and bury him there.  He wasn't quite the same when he came back.  And then things went down hill from there.  Hey, it's a Steven King story, amirite?

The point of that gruesome little story was, if you revive a starter how do you know it is the same one you had before?  If you aren't equipped to do a biological assay and genetic analysis - and if you doidn't do one when the starter was last healthy so you have a base line for comparison, how do you know?  I don't know about you, but I have neither the skills, the equipment needed, nor the money to hire it out.  For most of us, if it behaves the same, we're happy and that's good enough for us.  Still, how can you improve the chances of reviving a starter and knowing it is the same one you used to have?

Here are a few things you can do...

Start by doing the best you can to minimize the unwanted outcomes.  Since you are trying to revive a starter, whether it is from a long neglected packet or a starter from way back in the fridge, you want to avoid introducing new microorganisms to the starter. 

This may be the only situation in which you hear me recommend this.... use bleached all purpose flour.  This minimizes the chances of contamination.  The more refined the flour, the fewer microorganisms it will have on it.  A good whole wheat or rye flour, on the other hand, is crawling with microorganisms which make them great for starting a starter, but not so good for reviving one.  It's like pedigree dogs - the breeder won't let just any dog impregnate his prize pooch!  You need to be careful too!

Next, don't bet everything on a single roll of the dice - don't use all your old starter in one attempt.  Use a bit so you can try again if things don't work out.

Finally, have a control.  Using a second set of clean utensils, start a starter using the same bleached all purpose flour you are using to revive the neglected starter.  Make sure you don't use the same spoon to stir the revival starter and the control starter.  Now, see which takes off first.  You'd hope that the starter you are reviving will take off first.  If not, the chances are good you just started a new starter.  Since you saved some of the starter you are reviving, you can try again!

Good luck,

Mike

Robin Dobbie's picture
Robin Dobbie

Would an old starter, or transplanted starter even have anything unique and lasting in it? I was under the impression that transplanted starters do not carry their flavor and performance contributors forward. I thought starters were a combination of various strains of yeast and bacteria that come from the flour/water/local environment(which according to some is about the same everywhere) that thrive at a particular temperature range and on what the starter is fed. If this is wrong I'd love to know. 

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

The question of whether a starter remains true is one that is hotly, and frequently, debated in sourdough circles.  And I don't think there is a definitive answer yet.

When you look at the concentration of sourdough microorganisms, they are very low in the air, higher on flour and highest in a well maintained sourdough starter.  It is unlikely that foreign bacteria or yeast could take over a well maintained starter.  Sourdough bacteria make the starter very acidic which rules out most organisms being able to take over, and the bacteria also produces antibiotic compounds that further deter invaders.  Dr. Michael Gaentzle, a well known sourdough researcher, has starters in his collection that have remained unchanged for over 50 years.  So, I tend to think a well maintained starter is a stable thing.

Still, you hear people talking about how, "when I moved from San Francisco to Boise, my starter changed!" and "when I buy a starter it starts out great and then it gets bland!"  So, what is going on here?

What an organism eats impacts its flavor.  Hunters prize boars that have been feeding on acorns.  At least one American company, La Quercia, produces ham from pigs that were fed acorns.  The stuff is a sheer delight, and I wrote a piece about it a while back.  Nursing mothers will tell you that their babies will refuse to eat or get fidgety if mom has been eating spicy food - the flavors go into mom's milk.  If the flavor of large organisms and their products  are impacted by what they eat, it shouldn't be a surprise to find out that yeast and bacteria are also impacted by what they eat.

If you want a dramatic example, switch a starter you've been feeding white flour over to whole wheat or rye.  The aroma and flavor will dramatically change in a matter of days.  If I recall correctly, Debbie Wink commented that the change continues for at least a week. 

So, what happened when you moved from San Francisco to Boise?  Are you feeding your starter the same flour?  Even if the name on the flour sack is the same, the chances are good the grain came from different fields and the flour was milled in different mills.  The mineral content of the water you are using is also likely to be different.  So, did the starter change, or did it just change its expression?

At the end of the post, it isn't easy for someone who isn't a micro-biologist to know what is happening in their starter which leads to all sorts of speculation.  I know I'm guilty of speculation.  I'd love for a micro-biologist who has studied sourdough cultures to weigh in, but I haven't seen that happen yet.  So, for now, my speculation is that a well maintained starter is stable, but it may change taste and behavior when what - and how - it is fed changes.

-Mike

clazar123's picture
clazar123

You might find this interesting. He has now mapped and tested hundreds of sourdough starters as to the species in the individual starters.

http://robdunnlab.com/

Here is one of the posts here on TFL. I couldn't find the original post but the followups have way more information, anyways. Enjoy!

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/53787/are-you-following-sourdough-project

berryblondeboys's picture
berryblondeboys

That is truly fascinating and I'm amazed it has stayed alive (and I wonder, has it? I mean... nowhere along the line someone accidentally killed it and started a new batch and hid that secret?)