The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


JIP's picture


O.k. so I recently posted about a starter recipe in a new book I ordered that started with just grapes.  What I was supposed to do (and did) was to put 8 oz. of grapes in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap.  You were supposed to wait 3 days and then continue the recipe by adding flour and whatnot.  Well I followed the instructions and at the begining of the 3rd day I discovered some patches of mold on my grapes.  So I have a few questions would it have been safe to use this if I went ahead and scooped off the small patches of mold? also, what if anything did I do to cause this?.  My wife says the reason is obvious grapes left out in a hot kitchen this is just going to happen but there was no mold mentioned in the book.  This is like my 3rd attempt at some type of starter and I am getting quite frustrated I can bake some very nice bread otherwise I gues the sourdough gods just do not smile on me.  I guess this is not a true starter but it was called more of a "french" starter in the book so mabye I can keep this one out of the failure column but you can see mt frustration here.  By the way don't bother directing me to the starter page on the site that was my second failure after the Silverton debacle.   

PaddyL's picture

I tried starters with dried yeast, with grapes, with orange juice, and eventually plumped for flour and water.  Mix it up to a paste and let it sit, loosely covered, in a warm place for about 3 days.  After that, you can feed it as some people here do, or not, depending on your preference (I didn't feed mine till after about 5 days.).  There are lots more people here who have way more experience with sourdough than I do; all I know is what worked for me.  Good luck!

KosherBaker's picture


So sorry to hear you're having problems with your sourdough starter. I assume you've visited Mike Avery's website and read up on sourdough? Some great info there.

Speaking of Mike Avery he has commented several times on the grape starters, saying that basically the starter eventually turns into a sourdough starter anyway, therefore bypassing the need for grapes in the first place. Hopefully he'll chime in here with his info.

Now I personally am yet to see anyone fail with SourdoLady's starter method. In fact it is so forgiving that you don't even have to use orange juice or pineapple juice. I personally used bottled water and my starter loved it. Here is the link to her directions:


You need to make sure you use whole grain rye flour for the first three days and then switch to all purpose white flour from day 4 and on. There is nothing to discard and it is absolutely 100% guaranteed to work. Here is what you should expect.

Day 1. Not much

Day 2. Tiny bubbles forming on top, and a smell of stiky cheese emanating from your mixture.

Day 3. Bubbles will get a tad bigger and the smell of stinky cheese will be much stronger.

Day 4. Unless you starter is extremely wet it should have a rise of 50% or so

Day 5. Again unless you starter is too wet you should get a rise of 100%, or double.

If at any point the starter is doing something that you don't think it should start a thread here and the gurus will be able to help you to healthy viable living starter.


JIP's picture

Well, atually it was Sourdoughlady's starter that failed on me.  Honestly though, I was more asking for opinions on the mold situation that advice on what starter to use.  The recipe I was trying was a fairly specific starer for the recipes in this book.

sheffield's picture
sheffield (not verified)

Here's an early version of Silvertons' grape starter recipe.  Give this one a try.  It's a little different than the one you tried.  Maybe submerging the grapes in the flour/water mixture will keep the grapes from becoming moldy!

fancypantalons's picture

My advice would be to just scrape the mold off and keep going.  This is certainly the advice given for starters that have developed mold on them due to long-term refrigerated storage, and I presume the same is true of your proto-starter.

As an aside, I'd bet the problem is simply that the grapes were exposed.  I'm assuming, here, that the recipe calls for grapes placed in a flour/water slurry (probably wrapped in cheese cloth and lightly smashed?).  If that's the case, you probably just need to make sure the grapes are fully submerged in the flour mixture.

holds99's picture

In defense of Nancy Silverton, I made her starter ten years ago (organic grapes, unwashed) and am still using it very successfully.  I am fully aware of all the complaints about Ms. Silverton's method; time consuming (14 days), too much waste, etc.  I'm not endorsing her starter, only saying it works great for me and I never had a problem building her starter when I followed her instructions to the letter. 

Anything with mold on top I would toss.   I'm not a chemist but it seems to me that you run the risk of cross-contamination (to your new refresh/build starter) when you start scraping mold away to get to the center of already contaminated starter.  Anyway, there are numerous sources for purchasing a proven starter, including King Arthur's website and they're reasonably priced.  You might want to consider this as an alternative to making your own. 

Best of luck in your quest for a starter.

Howard - St. Augustine, FL

JIP's picture

Actually this recipe says to just let the grapes ferment on their own for 3 days.  There is no flour/water slurry just grapes.  After 3 days you are to add flour and proceed but initially there is no flour.  Again I am aware there are a milion and one different ways to get a starter going I was just asking for advice on the mold.

fancypantalons's picture

Heh, interesting, I'm shocked there *wasn't* reference to mold given that technique... 'round here, a bunch of exposed grapes would almost certainly turn furry in a few days.

Anyway, here's the USDA's page on the topic:

As you can see, most molds are harmless, though there are a few that are dangerous.  The biggest concerns are allergies and respiratory ailments, and the few cases were mycotoxins form.  Notably, mycotoxin-producing molds are found in grapejuice, and so in your particular case, this might be of some concern.

But, as always, it's up to you.  To be quite honest, were it me, I'd be tempted to just use a different technique that doesn't involve the room-temperature fermentation of grapes (personally, I built my starter using straight rye/white flour and water... my experience is that the key is one thing: patience.  If you think you've failed, odds are, you just haven't kept at it long enough).

Tacomagic's picture

If you haven't yet attempted it (and I know I say this a lot), you might want to attempt a "potato water" based starter if you get a failure here.  I've tried several different methods for making a starter and most take about 6-8 days to produce anything worthwhile (at least where I live).  All except the potato water starter, which took a scant 3 days before producing it's first doubled rise (trippled on day 4).

Currently "Mr. PotatoHead" is the only starter I've got going because he just seems way more voracious of a riser than my others were (I've seem him tripple and peak in 2-3 hours on a hot day).

Confusion is a state of mind... or is it?