Dried starter travel travails
Since I need to break in a friend's new laptop, I might as well post something here.
Before leaving South Africa to visit family in the States, I dried some of my starter so that I could transport it easily and bake some sourdough breads for family members. The drying part went okay. Everything else, not so well.
At the first stop, I rehydrated and fed a portion of the starter. The yeast activity was very sluggish. Apparently the reconstituted starter carried more bacteria than yeast, since the flavor was strongly acidic. Even repeated feedings with rye flour didn't perk it up. I wound up having to supplement with commercial yeast to achieve adequate leavening for the sourdough breads that I made.
Possible culprits that I'm considering include:
1. Water supply. It's chlorinated at my mother in law's place (she also has a water softener which she claims to not have put salt in for months) but my dad is supplied from his own well. The water supply here in Colorado Springs is heavily chlorinated so I've used pineapple juice instead of water to rehydrate another portion of dried starter, with no discernible improvement.
2. The drying process, which was at room temperature. I had spread a thin smear of recently-fed and very active starter on waxed paper and let it dry.
3. The microflora of my starter don't react well to being dried out.
I'm really at a loss to understand what is going on. The starter traveled in my carry-on luggage, so it wasn't exposed to extreme swings in temperature. Feedings of whole rye flour don't seem to have nourished the existing culture or to have reseeded it with new yeasts. Obviously one experience doesn't establish a trend, so I'll need to try this again to see if I get a different result. If it still doesn't work out, I'll be stashing two or three samples of my stiff starter in both checked and carry-on luggage when we move back to the States later in 2011. Wth any luck, I'll have at least one viable starter to carry on with instead of having to start all over again. Meahwhile, it looks as though my present backup might be a dud.