The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

On starter abuse and traveling with a starter

dolfs's picture

On starter abuse and traveling with a starter

About a year and a half ago I created a starter, from scratch, using just (bread) flour and water. I was lucky enough not to need pineapple juice, and did not have to go through several tries before success. The starter I ended up with is a "stiff" 50% hydration starter, mild in taste and doubling in about 8 hours.

After about 2 weeks of daily feedings, I decided to try refrigeration for most of the week to save on work (and flour). This went of without a hitch and the starter would easily revive after a week or so in 2 feedings. Possibly over-confident I did not feed my refrigerated starter at all for 2 months at a time (I was busy and not making any sourdoughs). Still it came back no problem (refrigerator at 40F).

Then my vacation to Montana came up (I live in Northern California). I was going to be away for 5 weeks. I had read people's worries about traveling with starters, but I decided to give it a try. Always playing it safe, I revived my refrigerated starter to a larger portion, stored part of the result away in the fridge (I now knew this to work), and packed the remaining 100g in a small plastic container and stored it inside the cooler. The cooler travelled with us in the car to Montana for about 18 hours. When I got there and after unpacking, about 24 hours later, the starter had gone past its peak, and smelled quite alcoholic. I fed it, and waited.... It was happy as a clam and came right back. I baked with it after another feeding and the results were excellent.

The starter will now travel with me on a 3 day road trip from here to Oregon (Elkton). This is much longer, but we'll see what happens. I don't really need it anymore, but if it survives I'll give it to the friends we're visiting so they can have their try at sourdough. 

FMM's picture

I recently did the same thing, except I brought it via a plane.  I used to keep both a stiff and liquid starter but then realised it was much easier just to keep a rye starter as I always add some rye to my dough. 

Knowing it was going to be three days before the starter could be fed again (I went from Sydney to Ireland via San Francisco), I was torn as to whether I should use a starter which had been refreshed the night before I left or one which had been fed 2 days previously.  I just packed about 75mls in a small 100ml disposable plastic tub with a lid.  I wasn't confident that would be enough volume for the two-day-old starter to stay alive so I opted for the one I'd just fed.  Possibly I made the wrong choice as, by the time I got to Dublin, the lid had popped off the tub and the starter was still bubbly.  I fed it a couple of times and it was great.

I suspect I wasn't supposed to travel internationally with a starter and I have violated an untold amount of laws but... 

Janedo's picture

I travelled with a starter last week. I made it firm, but since I'd forgotten that I was supposed to bring it, I prepared it at the last minute. I fed it, making it firm and put it in a tupperware. As I was in the train, I thought about it and realized that I didn't give it nearly enough room to grow. Sure enough, on arrival, it had burst its container (my daughters clothes all goopy!)! So, just a tip. Always put it in a big enough container.


ejm's picture

Jane, is right about the container size. But allow me to add two more items to her tip for travelling with a starter. 

  1. Use a container that will allow room for the starter to triple.
  2. Double bag the container with the starter.

Last summer I travelled by plane with my starter that had been refrigerated until just before we left. I put it in my bag in the hold of the plane (I really didn't want to have to explain what the bubbling mass was to security checkers and onboard staff...). I put it in what I thought was a jam jar large enough for the starter to double. Being a belt and suspenders sort of person, I put the jar into a zip lock bag and put the zip lock bag into another plastic bag twisted and tied shut. When I arrived at my sister's house about 12 hours after leaving our house, I retrieved the starter from my bag: while in transit, it had opened the jar, pried open the ziplock and was starting to ooze its way into the twisted section of the plastic bag!

I immediately fed it, then the next day built it up to make bread the following day.


P.S. Two of my sisters-in-law took some of the starter to continue making bread with it.