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Life with Fred: maintaining a starter in pictures

BobS's picture

Life with Fred: maintaining a starter in pictures

There's lots of discussion and great information about starters on TFL. Everyone does things a little differently, and what works for you is best. Here's what works for me.

I typically make two sourdough loaves a week. Sometimes more, and sometimes I miss a week, sometimes two. Sometimes I make more than two loaves.

When I started baking sourdough I had a lot of questions and two constraints. First, I traveled a fair bit for work, often on short notice, so I needed a process that was not too fussy  - no twice-daily feedings, no big mason jar of goo on the kitchen counter.  Second, I hate waste; the idea of discarding half of anything bothers me. I addressed the first constraint by having Fred live in the fridge nearly all the time; and addressed the second by keeping him fairly small. Here's Fred:

That's a half-cup container, and it contains 2.5 ounces of Fred. He's a little guy. Fred is a 100% hydration starter, so he's 50/50 flour/water by weight.  Fred's hydration is not so important, but one reason 100% is nice because it makes the math simpler. Fred is too small to make bread by himself, I use him to innoculate a levain that typically ferments 12-14 hours.

I made the original Fred about 3-4 years ago using the great instructions on this site from Debra Wink. Pineapple juice rocks.

The evening before (or two evenings before if I am retarding the final proofing) I take Fred out of the fridge and build a levain. Sometimes, when I have presence of mind, I take him out an hour or two before I start to let him warm up a bit, but often I just take him right out of the fridge. This is what he looks like after being in the fridge for about 10 days:

Sometimes, after a week or so, Fred will blow his top in the fridge. Not a big deal, and if no one notices for a day or two Fred will create a dry crust on top to keep his innards moisty. Fred's a bit of a teetotaler: I very seldom see hooch, perhaps only after a couple of weeks in the fridge. If Fred looks all watery and hoochy, I might feed him once or twice, but usually I will let him warm up and he comes back to life.

I feed Fred in a 1:2:2 ratio: 1 part starter, 2 parts flour, 2 parts water. My experience  (YMMV) is that this ratio provides adequate food so that he will be in good shape to innoculate a levain in a week, and can tolerate cooling his heels for longer if necessary . I always (well, almost always) remove 2 oz (of the 2.5 total) to start the levain build:

There's just a little bit of Fred left (0.5 oz):

The 1:2:2 ratio means we need to add 1 oz of water and 1 oz of flour in order to make Fred the man he was.  So we add 1 oz  water (that's a chopstick, which works really well for mixing the remaining starter and water) and then 1 oz flour. I feed Fred with AP or Bread flour, but I always give him a little treat of rye:

The 2 oz of starter is built into the levain - in this case a stiffer levain for Pain au Levain. There's no waste; I haven't discarded any starter.

If the formula for the levain called for less than 2 oz of starter,  I decrease the amount of flour and water in the levain by the excess amount of starter. For example, if the formula called for 1 oz of starter, I would use 2 oz of Fred, but then reduce the amount of flour and water I add by 0.5 oz each (that's what I meant about the 100% making the math easier). (It could be that innoculating the levain with more than the amount of starter called for in the formula changes the flavor profile of the bread. That's okay; I'vehad no complaints yet, and I have other details of technique to work out before addressing that one. If I found that it did make a difference, I would simply scale Fred down.)

The levain I'm building often has a different hydration than Fred. Sometimes it uses a different type of flour, e.g. rye. No matter.

The chopstick doesn't work for a lot of stiff starter, so I switch to the handle of a wooden spoon.

The levain goes in the proofing box overnight. Fred goes in for an hour or so just to help get his juices flowing. (I'm writing this in New Hampshire in February - the proofing box is required equipment). Then Fred goes in the fridge and does not reappear for a week or so. It seems to take about 4-5 days for Fred to develop sufficient strength in the fridge. If I want to use him sooner I will take him out and place him on the counter or in the proofing box until he's bubbly.

The next morning the kitchen is at 63F, but the levain looks good:

Fred, flour, water, salt:


linder's picture


Nice job keeping Fred busy.  He seems to like what you are doing for him and does a good job for you in baking sourdough bread.  I keep my starter in the fridge most of the time too and I also hate to waste any 'discard'.  If there is any, I use it to make sourdough crackers, pancakes or some tasty English Muffins.

Thanks for the great description of your process.


adriana's picture

Do you have a blog with your recipe for english muffins? or could you post it please? thanks!

Isand66's picture

Nice write-up.

its great to hear about people's starter routines.  I keep mine in yhe fridge all the time as well.  I keep mine at 65% and adjust as needed.



Janetcook's picture

Life with Fred sounds very relaxed and the loaves he raises sure look like he is one healthy fellow :-)

I taking care of my starter I have found it to be very accommodating as well as flexible and forgiving.  If one keeps a starter for any length of time it becomes readily apparent why sourdough has survived living with all sorts of humans for thousands of years....

Thanks for the post


evonlim's picture

happy Fred, did a good job with flour and water!! 

thanks for the tip of no wastage. 


varda's picture

Fred makes really good bread.   Hope you are planning to bring some to TFL meet-up.   But a general question to them as names their starters.   You realize you eat them don't you?    Just curious.   -Varda

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

We name our starters so that we remember to care for them. I do not eat Audrey, I feed her. And I use portions of her to make bread. But the portion that remains and is fed is Audrey, not the portion I consume. Anything else would be barbaric. 

Boboshempy's picture

I would like to introduce him to Paul one day!


dabrownman's picture

your Fred like I keep my starter, but mine is usually all rye sour with a little Spelt and WW at 65% hydration.  80 grams is plenty  for fridge storage and for baking a couple of loaves a week.  Mine doesn't have a name but I have an apprentice named Lucy who only speaks German and is dumb as a stump. 

dabrownman's picture

Bob.  Those loaves look perfect!  Thanks for telling folks how to keep less starter and not waste any flour with so many hungry in the world.  Conservation and thrift are good things.  A gem of a post.

BobS's picture

Couple of things.

  1. You will need an active, robust starter before you take my laissez-faire-let-him-cool-his-heels approach. This will require more frequent feedings over probably more than a couple of days. The best resource I've found for getting a starter started is Debra Wink's article right here on TFL:
  2. I'm not sure my maintenance procedure works with an unnamed starter.
David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

A 1/2 pint mason jar makes a great starter home. I have some concerns using plastic and acidic starter. It is very small. I use the wide mouth variety so it is easy to spoon feed.

Pompom's picture

I work mine similar to your treating of Fred and hate to waste and throw any starter out.  I keep a heaping tablespoon in a 4oz mason jar and does just fine for months at a time.  I only feed before baking and has kept well for 15 years now.  I remember buying some culture ie; Russian & San Fransiscan way back when and thought the Russian culture was really powerful.  I think that is where mine began but it's been so long.  By now, it's been innocculated with local cultures here in western Maryland and I call it my Maryland sourdough starter.  I have never used a proofing box, just leave it out on the counter is all.  I double it times 4 and remove another tablespoon to replace back in the 4oz jar for another time.  This works good for me but I've been thinking of changing things up and will follow your formula for increasing it with 100% hydration and see if it looks any different than what I've been doing.  Thanks so much for your wonderful's as simple as that. 

BobS's picture

Sounds like you have an excellent low-stress system in place. That's key; starters are like dogs - they can sense when you are afraid of them.

bread1965's picture

I'm just starting a starter and wasting too much flour. Learning lots. Pictures really helped! Off to read Debra's articles. Thanks!

Filomatic's picture

Bob, I love your post and am planning to make a seed culture using Wink/pineapple method for levain for sourdough, and maintaining the culture using your method here.  I originally found this post because I was appalled at the waste and scale suggested by Reinhart in BBA.  I've had very good success with his commercial yeast recipes and other techniques.

BBA basic sourdough calls for 2/3 C barm.  Barm recipe uses 5.5 C flour, with 1 C seed culture.  Seed culture uses shocking amounts of flour.  My quandary is that I am (1) inclined to use your method (baking every week or two is about my speed); (2) not inclined to buy another expensive bread book; (3) not sure how to apply your method to BBA barm without scaling down the amounts to make the barm.

Perhaps it was just sloppy for Reinhart to make the barm recipe far larger than necessary, but it has left me wondering if I'm missing something.  I simply want to make a barm or levain large enough for one or two loaves, and then refresh the seed culture for the next use.

I'd appreciate any thoughts or advice you have.

BobS's picture

First, understand that once you get your Barm going, that's all you need. One way to get the Barm going is to use Reinhart's seed culture method. Another (IMHO better) way is to use Debra Wink's pineapple juice method.

Also, note that in my post (and in real life) I say 'starter' or 'Fred' where Reinhart says 'Barm', and I say 'levain' where he says 'Starter'. I'll use Reinhart's terminology below.

Here are a couple of ways to think about it:

One way - If you are always going to be needing 4 oz of Barm (Fred) you could keep 5 oz of Barm (Fred) in the fridge, then take 4 oz out for building the Firm Starter for your sourdough and feed the remaining 2 oz of Barm in a 1:2:2 ratio with 2 of flour and 2 oz of water. That gets the Barm back to 5 oz. The advantage of this method is that the Firm Starter is inoculated at the same ratio as Reinhart's bread. So it should be kinda like his.

Another way - You need 10 oz of firm starter. Note that and Reinhart's Seed Barm is 100% hydration, just like Fred. The Basic Sourdough Firm Starter has 3.5 oz water -- 2 oz from the barm + 1.5 oz (splitting the difference of 1-2 oz) -- and 4.5 oz of flour. So it's 3.5/4.5 - 78% hydration (firm). Since I usually maintain a smaller amount of Fred (2.5 oz), what I would likely do is take out just 2 oz of Fred for the Firm Starter (feeding him with 1 oz water/1oz flour and returning him to the fridge). Fred is 100% hydration, so I know that 2 oz contains 1 oz water and 1 oz flour.  I know I need to get to 3.5 oz water and 4.5 oz flour. So I would add an additional 2.5 oz water and 3.5 oz flour. This gets the Firm Starter to 3.5 oz water and 4.5oz flour. Note that here I am inoculating the Firm Starter with less Barm. So I'm not trying to make exactly the same bread as Reinhart. For example It might take the Firm Starter a little longer to build, which means I have to keep an eye on it. That's fine, we are merely servants of the dough. And there might be some taste difference. I doubt it. Try both ways and see.

Hope that helps.


p,s. If you ever want to buy a second bread book, I strongly recommend Hamelman's Bread A Baker's Guide of Techniques and Recipes. I find it to be clearer and less fussy than BBA.

Filomatic's picture

I understand. Thanks so much for the helpful clarification.  I can't wait to do this with my 9 year old.  I'll take a look at Hamelman.

Filomatic's picture

Bob, I'd appreciate your input once more.  So this is Day 11 of my seed culture.  I followed Wink, and it being cool in my house, moved it to the microwave's 72F confines.  It finally doubled on Day 6, with a very attractive yeasty aroma.  But then it moved 25% and then 0 on Days 7-8, respectively, while remaining bubbly and tasting very sour with no off flavors.  I decided to try for a warmer environment.

On Day 9 I made a proofing box with a heating pad in a cooler (towels and metal rack on top of heat), and found the temperature with the door slightly ajar to be 82F.  This produced immediate effects, and it doubled or more, necessitating an evening feed.

On Day 10 it was again very active, and I decided to split the culture in 2, and feed one of them at 1:1:1.  These both doubled in about 3.5 hours.  I fed them again, now both at 1:1:1.  They again grew quickly.  At 9 pm I decided to go 1:2:2 with both.  The culture with the one more 1:1:1 feeding was growing higher.  At 2 am I got up for a nature call and found they had both at least tripled, so ... this morning, Day 11, I fed both again at 1:2:2.

My question is, assuming this pattern repeats, should I keep feeding for a few more days, or is it ready to go into the fridge?  Wink writes, "One more thing I have found is that with regular feeding at room temperature, new starters seem to improve and get more fragrant right around the two week mark. Maybe this coincides with the appearance of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis mentioned previously. It is generally regarded as the most desirable species, as well as the one found to be the most common in traditional sourdough."

1:2:2 is pretty close to the BBA "Barm" proportion (and Fred's make-up), so I would plan to make levain/firm starter with what I have (reserving a portion in the fridge of course).


BobS's picture

It sounds like you've gotten over the hump and have an active starter. Time to make some bread! It's going to be great.

And don't worry; once you get one of these going they are very hard to kill.

Filomatic's picture

That's great to know.  I'll continue to day 14 just in case, which fits the weekend schedule anyway.

I re-read your original post again and it makes more sense than ever. FWIW, I made waffle batter last night with a recipe found on here ( with the cast-off starter from Frank and Bob (my daughter chose Bob, and Frank(enstein) was the half of Bob used to test 1:1:1 viability), and they were quite good this morning, crisp with a noticeable sourdough taste and spongy inside.  I will be trying the pastry flour recipe too.

Filomatic's picture

Bob, looking back on your response to my first question:

"One way - If you are always going to be needing 4 oz of Barm (Fred) you could keep 6 oz of Barm (Fred) in the fridge, then take 4 oz out for building the Firm Starter for your sourdough and feed the remaining 2 oz of Barm in a 1:2:2 ratio with 2 of flour and 2 oz of water. That gets the Barm back to 6 oz. The advantage of this method is that the Firm Starter is inoculated at the same ratio as Reinhart's bread. So it should be kinda like his."

Isn't this 1:1:1, not 1:2:2?  If I'm not mistaken, then keeping 5 oz would work fine, taking 4 oz, and feeding the remaining 1 oz at 1:2:2 to get back to 5 oz.


BobS's picture

Yes, sorry, that was  typo. I've corrected it.



armato's picture

Hi (again) :)

I keep my starter the same way as you do. Sometimes I want a mild loaf fx with sweet notes from a long autolysis as the dominating flavour. Do you have any advice on how to achieve this without changing starter maintenance (as many threads here at TLF suggest)?

- Arendse

BobS's picture


I don't have a lot of experience with long autolyse. Are you asking whether it is possible to make a Tartine-like 'sweet' levain from starter such that it does not overpower any flavor generated during a long autolyse?

I don't know, but the breads that I make with a very liquid levain and a low percentage of pre-fermented flour are not very sour. So I would experiment along those lines. The inoculation percentage of the levain might also have an effect.

Try it. Report back.

armato's picture

I'll try!

CrazyCatLady's picture

Thank you! I am new to sourdough bread making. Hell, I'm new to the baking of any bread. This was very helpful and easy to understand. :)

I currently keep a 100% whole wheat, 100% hydration starter. I really want to convert it to 100% AP.  Will the switch make my starter less active due to the decrease in goodies that are contained in whole wheat? 

BobS's picture

The answer to questions like yours is always 'it depends'. An active starter is making plenty its own goodies. So if you've worked out how to build a active WW starter and maintain it, you will be able to to it for AP. Things might be slightly different, Or not.

What I would do is just try it. Use a bit of your WW to get an AP starter going. Keep your WW starter going for backup. Compare and contrast. That's how to really get the feel of things.

DesigningWoman's picture

Your narrative of life with Fred convinced me that I could try to start a starter and find it liveable. I'm on Day 10, and Debra has encouragingly told me that things are looking good. So, thanks to you, I may actually start baking sourdough.