You know those parenting classes they used to give in high school? Those ones where you have to carry around a fake baby and pretend to feed it and nurse it when it cries and try to maintain a normal sleep schedule?
Well I have a better idea. Forget carrying around fake plastic babies--make students carry wild yeast starters.
Before you give me a weird look, consider that this is the way people have been making bread for centuries. A true wild yeast culture is what imparts to bread it's subtle, fermented taste. (In fact, sourdough bread's classic aroma comes from the particular variety of starter used to make it.) On the other hand, packaged yeast has its own distinctive and sometimes distracting taste. Also, interestingly, starters tend to take on a different taste depending on where they are located, as they adopt some of the yeast cultures floating in the air (San Francisco sourdough, anyone?). The point is, that using a starter permits you to make delicious, authentic, rich, and unique loaves of bread.
|A starter rises in much the same way bread does. The starter took up about half this volume when I fed it that morning. You can even see the air pockets against the edge of the jar.|
|I found this picture from when I made my starter about a year ago. You can see the grape-stained cheesecloth inside the jar. It actually did vaguely resemble a diaper. Yup, that was an interesting thing to have sitting around the kitchen.|
I was being lazy and hadn't fed it for a few days. At that point I happened to look over at it and noticed its decidedly unpropitious condition. It had a dark gray layer of coagulation on top and a decidedly orange rim around the edges. It smelled absolutely rancid. Plugging my nose, I fished out the grey skin with a wooden spoon and poured out as much off the top as I could spare. I removed the rest of the starter from its normal habitat in its glass jar to a large bowl and fed it immediately and regularly for the next few days. It took a couple days, but eventually it started showing signs of life--bubbling, faint fermented scent--and the bacteria didn't come back. Lesson learned!
Let this project be the final confirmation that my starter has returned to robust health! Yet another reason parenting a starter is more akin to parenting children than is looking after a doll: the fruit of your labor might grow up to make you delicious bread! (Well, if you're my parents, anyway ;) )