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.