I made my first wild yeast starter using white rye flour. All went seemingly well until my wife and I tasted the bread. It was beyond sour--it was bitter. Any ideas on what went wrong?? Earle
Couple of pieces of information here are missing:
First, how old is your starter?
Second, what recipe did you use?
Third, how did you prepare the bread?
Without having that information, the best guess for me would be that your starter is probably too young, and you may not at this point actually be growing yeast. Starters that are only a few days old are likely to be mostly bacteria culture, which can act a bit like yeast, but tend to produce a more... vomity tasting bread as opposed to sour/yeasty. You'll also notice far, far less rise from this kind of culture.
If you want to test this out there are a couple of ways to check it. First, smell the starter... if it doesn't smell clean and yeasty, then you've got bacteria. You can also taste your starter, if your starter is bitter or tastes like spoiled milk, you've got bacteria. I don't recommend tasting your starter unless you're willing to not swallow, and to rinse your mouth out afterwards with mouthwash or wild turkey. If your starter fails either of these tests, then you'll have to continue raising the starter until the PH of the starter drops low enough to kill the bacteria off and let the yeast proliferate (4-4.5 PH iirc).
If you're starter is older and already proven to be able to rise at least double, or it passes the bacteria tests, then it's probably something in the recipe, or proofing time.
Confusion is a state of mind... or is it?
Thanks for your quick and informative reply. The starter was 4 days old. I found the recipe within these pages: 1/2 cup flour (I used white rye from KA) and 1/4 cup of bottled water, fed every 12 hours. Unfortunately, we had to go out of town and I missed one feeding. The bread recipe was Greenstein's Sour Rye. In truth, when I went to add the sour, I had just taken it out of the fridge for 2 hours and it really didn't have that beery, yeasty smell. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said the problem was with the starter. I'll try again and I would appreaciate any suggestions you may have. Thanks again, Earle.
The problem with a public forum is that sometimes people who are well intended give bad advice. DO NOT TASTE YOUR STARTER IF IT HAS ANY KIND OF OFF SMELL.
You should follow the advice of sourdolady, Mike Avery or any of the experts here who have had long threads on the subject of proper care of a new starter. Use the search tool and check it out.
If you keep feeding your starter with a known procedure you should easily arrive at a safe and stable and powerful natural levain or yeast. It might take a week or so to get to that point so be patient.
Here is a link to a very good starter procedure.http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/233
Taco: I'm sure you meant well, however---
I indeed meant well... and I've tasted my starter a few times myself during the bacteria stage (4 or 5 to date, yech). Massivly nasty tasting and I have to wash with listerine to get the taste to go away... well the first 3 times anyway. 4 and 5 tasted like a wheaty version of vegemite. As I've never gotten sick, I figured most of what's culture during any stage is mostly harmless stuff. May not be the case though. I should pull my old incubator and do a swab from my next starter. Probably just B. subtilis for the most part... that tends to be all over anything made from wheat, would be interesting to find something else though.
The original advice was from a friend who's been doing sourdough for ages. It's possible that she might have been joking, I'll have to ask her. Jokes like that tend to bounce right off me.
EDIT: So I called her up on the phone... and yeah, she WAS joking, and she thought that I had understood the joke. She also just spent about 10 minutes laughing at me over the phone. Think I'll go drink away my shame... I'm never going to hear the end of this.
I think it's time to do my french fold method... wild turkey anyone?
I'll be right over! You're a good man Taco.
I just want to say one word to you, just one word. Are you listening? Patience.
OK, I admit, I kinda borrowed those lines.
But seriously, Eric steered you in the right direction. Prowl the archives and read the threads. And as I say, have a little, check that, a lot of, patience. Good sourdough takes T I M E. Getting a good starter, one that can leaven bread and impart good flavor, really takes a couple of weeks at least. And it will continue to ripen and change and mature for a long time after that. (It's alive!)
Anecdotally, on the subject of tasting starter, I think Daniel Leader, in Bread Alone, suggests tasting your newly created starter. (Full disclosure: in that book he kick starts his starter with commercial yeast!) Confession: I did taste my starter early on, but it was all bubbly and exuberant and smelled great. It didn't taste bad, but I haven't tasted it since then.