The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The dead starter that wasn't. A question.

Fredk01's picture

The dead starter that wasn't. A question.

I only make my sourdough rye every alternating two weeks when I'm on a day shift at work.

A couple of times in the past I had missed a weekly feeding on the non baking weeks and it didn't seem to cause any issues.  Two weeks ago  I pulled some starter out of the fridge a week after a missed feeding and it didn't do anything.  Well, it did get very moldy, but that's not what the recipe called for. :)

I tossed the moldy starter, made a whole wheat loaf and ignored the remaining starter in the fridge for a few weeks.  Yesterday, in preparation to make a new starter from my dried backup, I did some reading, including an older post here about reviving old abandoned starter after many months.  I thought I would give the 'dead' stuff in my fridge I was ignoring another go.  Its alive!

A big hint.  From the start, my culture has not smelled the way others have described.  It always smelled weakly or strongly of alcohol, even when the culture seemed to be going strong.  I actually poured a bit of clear liquid off the top of the culture each week.

Last night I pulled the 'dead' starter out of the fridge and gave it a sniff.  Didn't really smell of anything.  There was nothing obviously nasty on the top, so I scraped the top bit off, pulled the rest of the culture underneath out and put it in a new dish with a tablespoon of rye flour and some OJ (for acid).

In the morning the culture looked OK and I could see a few small bubbles.  Before I left for work I fed it with another tablespoon of flour (didn't need any liquid) and went to work.  Tonight when I got home, I gave it a sniff and it smells good.  Yeasty and slightly sour.  It is indeed alive.

So, the question.  Was I underfeeding before letting the culture run out of food?  My guess is that by under feeding, I let the alcohol build up to the point the yeast went dormant.


Fredk01's picture


At any rate, the culture has been revived and seems much healthier than the first go round.  I've since fed it 1/2 cup twice, removing half of the starter before the last feed.

The smell is very tangy/acidic with no hint of an alcahol smell.  It doubles in size nicely over 8 to 10 hours in my oven with the light on.

It would still be nice to confirm what happened the first time round.

mikedilger's picture

unfortunately, my experience with starters conflicts quite a bit with the NMNF starter approach. In my experience, yes definitely you underfed your starter and kept it too cold for too long... which wont kill it, but will make it very slow and require multiple feedings to revive.  However the NMNF crowd do that intentionally.  Maybe dabrownman could share some insight.

In any case unless it gets a very nasty infection you can revive it and it sounds like you did.

Fredk01's picture

Thanks for the reply Mike.  The starter seems to be fully revived.  I've put it back into the fridge because I won't be ready to bake until Monday.  I'll certainly pay more attention to feeding and if I miss a week, will spend a couple of extra days to revive.