The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

When to remove grapes from starter?

con20or's picture

When to remove grapes from starter?

Hi everyone, I tried this recipe

a few months ago but even after 4 or 5 tries I couldn't get it to react again after the first feeding. I half hoped that it was because it was too cold during the days/nights (Jan/Feb time) so i decided to try again in the warmer parts of the year. I just started my new attempt yesterday and remembered that there is another issue I was struggling with - when (if at all) do I take the grapes out of the starter? Is it ok if some goes into the bread when i make it? What happens if too many are removed when I am feeding it?

This is the final recipe im working towards



David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Since the starter can be made without the grapes, it won't matter when or if they are removed in the feeding and discard process. 

And a bit of grape in a kilo of dough won't hurt anything. 

Those starter instructions are kind of thin. Do a search for King Arthur flour sourdough starter for one that is a bit more detailed. Or look here for fhe pineapple juice solution by Debra Wink. Sometimes flour and water alone can fail to make a viable starter due to some bacteria that may be on the flour. The juice removes that possibility from the equation. 

PetraR's picture

You do not need to remove them , they will disappear on its own.

I done the same Starter , he is 16 month old now and happy.


ElPanadero's picture

"he is 16 month old now"

No he isn't. But he has sired countless children who have themselves had children and those children had their own children and so on down the line. What you have is no more than 2 days old (unless you froze it at some point) but it's ancestry goes back 16 months ;-)

PetraR's picture

You are right , it is just easier to say it like this.


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Was it not you who said that a person was no more than a year old because that's how long it took all of ones cells to regenerate?  I think the age of the starter, like the age of a person, is measured from birth. And that we should have parties with presents on Father's Day

ElPanadero's picture

Yes Dave it was me but it is approx 10ys not 1 yr. YOU or that which you refer to as YOU, your body in its current configuration, is no more than 10yrs old because all your body cells have regenerated in that time span, bones, tissue etc. A fascinating thought really. Spirit and soul are a different matter entirely which I can't comment on.

On the other hand, if you consider yourself in terms of the tiniest "thing" that makes you up then every part of you (if you were to break it down) is made from the same "prima materia" which is "life-energy" call it what you will, the essence, the quintessense, the fifth-element. Given then that energy can neither be created nor destroyed in our self-contained universe, all that energy is as old as the universe itself. So you are in that sense . . . billions of years old ! No wonder we can't run around as fast as we used to :-)

Our sourdough starters are nothing more than copies of something that was established a long time ago. Your music CDs are nothing more than copies of music that was penned a long time ago. I only really take issue with the notion of starters being "old" because it enables a sales gimmick used by unscrupulous traders who would happily sell you a "100 yr old starter" through making you believe that somehow what they have there is infinitely stronger and better than a starter that was made 5 days ago with the same strain of yeasts. It's kidology for the most part.

Under normal circumstances the yeasts in everyone's starters are no more than 2 days old. They replicate a total of 26 times and each replication takes 90-100mins. So approx 43 hrs lifespan each. It's a romantic notion to say "my starter is 10 yrs old" but all it really means is you've been copying the original starter for 10 years, much like making 1 million copy CDs of your favourite song. Each CD is new and fresh despite the song being written 10 yrs ago.


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

So copying a starter from 100 years ago may indeed be better than today's newly created starter which spends so much time in front of the t.v., watching mind numbing reality programing and not getting the same level of physical activity as a starter copied from 100 years ago may just not have the same qualities.

My starter, which was created for the first time nearly a year ago, has never watched any television and has been listening to classical music on a daily basis since birth.  It is available for $19.95, plus shipping and handling, for a limited time.

balmagowry's picture

Mine is permitted the occasional PBS documentary and a few yoga videos. ;-P

balmagowry's picture

You can't step in the same river twice, etc. etc.

And... is USS Constitution still USS Constitution after all her timbers have been replaced?

It's an argument for the ages, and neither side will ever win it. There's something to be said for lineage, though. I may not actually BE my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, but I'm certainly descended from her in a direct line and I still carry some of the same DNA; that might be a fair analogy for the great age of a starter whose literal components are no more than 2 days old but whose ancestral/cultural roots have been handed down through several generations. I make my own wine vinegar, from a mother given to me by my mother (Q: when is my mother's mother not my grandmother?); of course the actual piece of mother culture itself died many decades ago, but its descendants are still flourishing and reproducing in the jar, and therefore I still think of it as *her* mother.

My present starter, OTOH, is as entirely unrelated to the starter I used 30 years ago as it is possible for two fundamentally similar organisms to be. The old one died of neglect (looooooong baking hiatus, sigh) and got thrown out, and the present one was started from scratch a couple of months ago. There may still be a very tenuous connection between them, as both were started by the same person in the same kitchen, but there's been a whole lot of water under that bridge, and I don't assume they are anything more than very distant cousins at best.

ElPanadero's picture

Yes you can throw terminology into the pot here but it doesn't really help much. I'm reminded of the adage of the old woman with her broom saying:

"I've had this same broom for 30 years. It's had 7 new heads and 5 new poles but it's never let me down !"

In terms of the physical things, Nature has established some simple rules and mechanisms. Pretty much every living thing is encoded with the same basic instructions which are:

1. Acquire life-energy from somewhere
2. Replicate yourself

The replication part includes replication of the "recipe" or rules so that the newly created organism will perform in the same way.

As I say, if you want to think of your starter as that same starter you began months or years ago, then by all means do, but it is just a romantic notion. What you have is a newly created copy (less than 2 days old) of that original. There is a key difference in the statements:

- My starter is 2 years old and
- I've been keeping my starter for 2 years

I favour the latter of the 2 because it is the true statement. The former is at best misleading and at worse completely untrue.

"My present starter, OTOH, is as entirely unrelated to the starter I used 30 years ago "

This might not be true actually as most likely both starters contained the same yeast strain that has been doing the rounds for decades. If that's the case then they are in fact the same thing, copies/replications of an earlier set of yeasts.

balmagowry's picture

that I was basically *agreeing* with you?

Not entirely convinced about the relationship between my old and new starters, though, because this environment has changed a lot in the interim. Also, the old starter traveled with me to live in a lot of different locations over a long period, and presumably picked up some ambient variations along the way. I don't doubt that the two have a certain amount in common, but I doubt they're anything like identical.

On further reflection... though I do take your point, I don't really have any problem with the romantic approach to referring to starter. I prefer the ship analogy to the broom analogy, because ships have stronger personalities, but either way it's a convenient shortcut with a conventional meaning that is understood by anyone who has given any thought to the matter; and from a more whimsical standpoint it speaks to the aspect of baking that is art as much as science. In any case I don't see it as misleading or disingenuous; it's just an idiomatic contraction for an unnecessary degree of exposition.

ElPanadero's picture

Here's a "romantic" example, an article about a lady with a so-called 122 year old starter:

It's a nice story, but the starter isn't actually 122 years old, it's just been fed and copied for 122 years, but we don't care about the distinction as it's a nice article.

Here's a different example, a site selling "59 year old starter" for £12 a pop.

The "headline" says "59 year old starter" but the proceeding description then states "It has been fed daily for 59 years " which is of course the true statement.

Here's another:

"100 year old Alaskan sourdough starter" - £5.04

Is it a case of plain old misunderstanding of what a starter is? Or is the "100 yr old" line being used to glorify and "sell" the product?

and another

"120g Fresh 15 year old Derbyshire Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter " - £5.99

and one more

"Authentic fresh 14 year old San Francisco Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter" - £6.80

Am I being pedantic here? I don't aim to be. But I see lots of people and companies advertising "X yr old starters" when in fact they are freshly created starters. Where they are selling dried out starters then clearly they will be older than 2 days but still nowhere near the X yrs old they are advertising it as.

In the words of Jim Royale . . . . "100 year old Alaskan sourdough starter my ar$e!"

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

The potential benefit of a 100 year old starter that has been fed daily for 100 years is that it suggests that if you become its owner, it will continue to thrive as long as you feed it.  Whereas, "I just created my starter last week, so I have no idea if it will remain viable 30 days from now much less in 30 months or years" does not have the same pull.  I won't pay much for something that may not survive the month. But I might pay something for something that has proven staying power.  And by proven, I mean, if I believe what I am reading.

In any case, selling starter on a site like The Fresh Loaf is bound to be difficult. Still, if anybody wants to drop by for my mozart enhanced starter, let me know and we can haggle.


ElPanadero's picture

If someone doesn't have the nouse or skill to create their own starter (for free!!) in a few days with just flour and water, then what hope do they have of maintaining a bought culture? It's the same process. In the end it's all just yeasts and labs. I'm not at all against people selling starters, after all they help people get instant results without the hassle of creating from scratch. But claiming they are X yrs old in order to sell them or claiming they are super resilient is pure snake oil.

balmagowry's picture

Heh. Well, here is a little example of reverse naivete on my part: Until now it simply would never have occurred to me that anyone could fail to translate "100-year-old starter" into its true meaning, i.e. starter that has been working/growing/self-refreshing/self-replacing for 100 years. So that's several DUH points for me, because I guess it's perfectly possible for the n00b to fall into precisely that erroneous assumption.

For practical purposes, though, it may be a distinction without a difference in one sense. The really important virtue of any such starter is that it not be *dead* - as long as you're buying a starter that works, you're getting usable value for your money. Beyond that, there's a case to be made for the fact that romance is a distinctly salable commodity. Are the people buying "100-year-old" starters poor saps who've  been suckered by snake-oil salesmanship? Perhaps, at least to the degree that they're paying for something they could make themselves with a little flour and water and minimal effort, so there's dubious value in making any purchase in the first place. But if they're attracted by the romance, I for one am not gonna argue with them.

I have played a few notes on Mozart's piano. Is it intrinsically any better than any other instrument? Nope. Frankly my own more modern (well... early 20th C; these things are relative) piano at home is far superior in tone and touch. So what did I get out of touching that relic and producing sound out of it? Bupkes, technically. And yet the experience is enriching, and it means something, especially to someone with a sense of history.

Now, I grant you this is an apples-and-oranges comparison in one sense; of course Mozart's piano has not been shedding and replacing itself over the past couple of centuries. Dilapidation aside, it is still the *same* piano. What does apply in both cases, though, is the feeling of continuity with something older. I don't think that is without value.

My starter of 30 years ago was named Wotan because he fathered many children and they traveled far and wide among my acquaintance - I gave away bits of him to anyone I knew who was at all interested in baking. How stupid is that, when they could have made their own equally good starter in their own kitchens, just by throwing together a bit of flour and water? And yet they were excited to have a bit of mine because it came from me, because it was the same (or, more literally, a descendant/successor of the same) that I had used to produce breads that they had enjoyed; because it represented a connection between us. That subjective impression has absolutely no basis whatsoever in biology , and yet... it's still real.

So - "100-year-old" starter with really interesting provenance? I know damn well it's nothing but flour and water and it doesn't contain an iota of the same actual material it started out with, and yet... I'm not sure I wouldn't buy it anyway, for the story, for the intangibles. If that's romance, hey - like I said, romance sells. @ David Esq., I'll be in touch about that Mozart starter of yours. Trade you some Heifetz (literally) vinegar mother. ;-P

ElPanadero's picture

the comparisons there are not really good ones.

Provenance is a good thing, and it has value but that's not what we are talking about here. You say "100-year-old" starter with really interesting provenance" but that's 2 separate things. The provenance might for example be that it's some of the starter maintained by say Chad Robertson, but 100 yrs old it is not. Selling it as Chad's Starter imo is fine and dandy, but selling it as "100 yr old" is not.

The whole romance side of this is to some extent irrelevant. Advertising needs to be factually correct and not misleading. If you personally want to buy something described as "100 yr old starter" then be my guest, but you should be able to do so in full knowledge of what that means. It's for this same reason that products like butter can't be called butter and are called either spreads or margarines depending on strict criteria.

Commercially sold starters imo ought to be sold as fresh sourdough starters or dried sourdough starters and should ideally state the strain of yeasts they contain. Age of the starter should really not be mentioned at all unless, absolutely genuinely, the contents ARE in fact very old and have been preserved in some way (such as freezing etc). I also believe there should be a warning clause on every packet stating that the original strains of yeasts in the mix may become mixed with competing strains from any flour used to maintain the culture and over time may be replaced entirely.

gerhard's picture

Wow talk about making a mountain out of a molehill.  

Take a deep breath and relax


con20or's picture

ok thanks everyone

PetraR's picture

I done this recipe countless times in the beginning and it is very good.

I since than tried other methods of kneading and do not use any oil or flour when I do my * french kneading * and find it so much easier.

I make bigger loafs now since we are a family of 6, it made sense.

I have Paul Hollywoods Book * Bread * and love it.

dabrownman's picture

grew legs, hardly ever happens with new starters created today but used to be common before 1974; Lucy takes her starter for a walk nearly every day but since it is kept in the fridge, Lucy struggles hauling it down the sidewalk too.  But, Lucy is a determined German and does not give up easily. She put the fridge on larger wheels and hopes to find old rye a mate once she figures out its sex, or sexual preference, as the case may be.  

rozeboosje's picture

I expected a thread about grapes and instead I got the Ship of Theseus ...

Anyhoo - I started my own Monster Raving Loony Starter about a year ago using nothing but organic wholemeal rye flour and water. As people have already pointed out to you - don't worry about the grapes; after a few feeding cycles they'll be ancient history.

sandydog's picture

Petra was correct when she said the grapes will gradually disappear - as you either discard or feed your starter.

I went to see Paul Holywood give a demonstration of bread making recently in my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He came across as a really decent bloke and was most entertaining - His recipes work although, for obvious reasons, he plays on the safe side with ingredient levels to ensure success every time.

Unless I am mistaken - This particular Paul Hollywood recipe is an overall 60% hydration which (Even for an all white flour loaf) is a bit lower than most experienced bakers on this forum would find to their liking.

It is up to each of us to follow, or adapt, recipes to our own levels of taste, expectation and skill.

Happy baking Conor.


Ps. Can "Moms" Apple Pie be made by a man, or a machine operated by a man?