Reconditioning Sourdough Starter

The last time I made sourdough bread it was awful. No, really, it was. We each had part of one roll, then fed the rest of it to the chickens. I haven’t made anything sourdough since then, and it’s been months. I thought about writing an article called ‘Yucky Bread’, but first I wanted to figure out what had gone wrong. One thing that was different was the recipe. It called for mixing up the bread dough, then allowing it to proof overnight, instead of only mixing up the sponge and allowing it to ‘sour’ overnight. I thought maybe this new technique had somehow made the bread way too sour, which was what was wrong with it. 

So, off to my cookbooks I went. It took a while and much reading, then I finally found this information. When you don’t use your sourdough starter for a length of time, and have it stored in the refrigerator like I did, it becomes more and more acidic. This will make your dough, when you finally use it, much stronger. Well, when I made this last batch of bread, my starter had been in the frig for quite a while. I was anxious to try my latest sourdough cookbook, until I made that batch of yucky bread. It has full instructions on how to make sure your culture is fully active and not too acidic on page 30. Now, that I have figured out how to de-acidify my starter, I still look forward to trying out some of these recipes.

I followed the directions on how to ‘sweeten’ up the starter, and it worked great. Fast forward to the present. Even though I reconditioned the starter back then, I never used it to make bread. Since then we have had back

surgeries, accidents and other interruptions in our lives, and throughout that, I barely even fed my starter. When I finally grabbed it, and decided to at least feed it, the dark liquid that is usually on top of the floury dough was dried up. I figured the starter was dead. It still had that sourdough kind of smell, although it was a VERY strong smell, it didn’t smell rotten, which is what I expected. I didn’t think it would hurt to try reconditioning it once again. That is what I am doing now.

Believe it or not, even after several months of neglect, the starter is back to perking along. Reconditioning starter is very easy. Set it out at room temperature, and each day feed the starter about 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of filtered water. It should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. Remember to only use wooden, glass, ceramic or plastic with sourdough. It doesn’t like metal at all. Leave the starter out at room temperature covered with a towel and let it percolate and bubble. Since my container for storing the starter in the frig doesn’t hold much, I fed the starter for several days to build up volume before I started discarding some of it.

After feeding for several days, keep about 1 1/2 cups of the starter, put it in a new bowl, and discard the rest. Feed the starter you kept, letting it bubble up well between feedings. I will go by several times a day and stir it up, almost in a whipping motion, to add a good amount of air to the mix. You may need to feed it again for several days to build up the volume before you discard any more. Repeat this process until the starter returns to it’s original state and smells like normal sourdough starter instead of the real strong, almost stinky, smell of an acidic starter. How many times and over how many days you repeat this process will be determined by the condition of your starter and your own personal preferences.

A warning. While you are reconditioning your starter, be prepared for your kitchen to smell a little off for a while. It took Frank a few days to figure out it wasn’t the trash or something rotten in the kitchen that needed to be discarded, it was the starter. If you are going to have company, you may want to warn them ahead of time what is happening in your kitchen, especially if you are going to feed them. It is not a rancid smell, it is just rather strong and most people would think it stinks.

A side note. While I have my starter out in this working state on the counter, I have learned to keep it away from my kefir. We always have a quart of kefir in the works and that spot on the counter is the ideal place to keep the sourdough as well. But, the last time I reconditioned the sourdough next to the kefir, the kefir almost stopped working. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it until I remembered reading an admonition somewhere that the yeasts from the two cultured items don’t play well together. Now I keep them across the room from each other, which works out much better.

My first sourdough bread, 2013


I have been reconditioning this starter for a week now and still have several days to go before I will be satisfied with the results. When I walk by it, I still smell some of that ‘stinky’ strong smell, which tells me it is not at the state that I would like for it to be. After it’s in good shape again, I hope to make another batch of bread, and this time, I hope it’s edible. Frank appreciates a fresh batch of bread much more than the chickens. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Until next time – Fern

Winter Squash Pie

We had one more bag of frozen winter squash left from last year’s harvest that we wanted to eat, so that means it is time for a pie. Even with the incredible heat and drought we had last summer, our Cushaw and Buttercup squash did pretty good at

the end of the season. We kept many of them in storage for much of the winter, then we peeled, boiled and froze several quarts. This is our last quart. Since we didn’t really plan ahead before we decided it was a good day for pie, we thawed it out in a sink of hot water while I made the pie crust.

I searched online for a recipe specific to Cushaw squash and found several that were almost what I wanted, so I combined  the best of the ingredients and came up with this recipe. It calls for a single pie crust.

My pie crust recipe is the same one my mother taught me to use when I was in high school. 

In my spare time as a teenager living in the country, I decided to type (on a manual typewriter!) my favorite recipes in a booklet format so I would have my own cookbook when I left home. Well, my booklet never really materialized, but I am still using my typewritten pages with my old favorite recipes.

To make the pie crust you need:

1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup shortening
about 2 tbsp. water

First, dust 2 pieces of wax paper (about the size of your pie plate) with flour.

 

Mix the salt with the flour, then cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until it is consistent and crumbly.

Sprinkle in a tablespoon of water at a time and stir with a fork until a ball forms. Use as little water as possible for a flakier crust.

 

Put the ball of dough between the two pieces of waxed paper and flatten. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin a little larger than your pie plate. I have had this rolling pin for about 30 years. Frank made it in a woodshop class he taught. It was originally going to have handles like most traditional rolling pins, but never quite got that far. I am glad. I really like it just the way it is. I have tried one of the others and I don’t think they work near as well. Maybe I am just a little biased, but for me, it is perfect.

Slowly peel the top layer of waxed paper off. Don’t be surprised if the dough wants to stick to the paper somewhat. Just gently get it started all across one side and peel back slowly.



Turn the dough over with the waxed paper side up and center it on the pie plate. Now repeat the same process of peeling off the final piece of waxed paper. Let the crust settle into the pie plate as you go.

 



When my mom taught me how to make pie crust, the hardest part was learning to flute the edges, but I finally got it down. It isn’t necessary, but it does make the pie look pretty. First, I tuck under the extra dough to give it an extra layer to flute. Then, squeeze the dough up between your fingers to form the scalloped looking edge.

 

 


I have a new copy of the old Betty Crocker Cookbook with pictures that has a good explanation of making a pie crust. This is another one of those books we have an extra of in case someone may need it.

 


Boy! I sure know how to dirty up a kitchen! Frank spent his time between taking pictures and washing dishes.

 
The pie filling is very easy. If you have fresh squash, peel it, take the seeds out and cut it in cubes. Boil it until it is soft enough to mash easily with a potato masher. Measure out 2 1/2 cups and you are in business for making a pie.


Grace and her husband have tried this pie and she says it is very similar to pumpkin pie. Frank and I don’t care for traditional pumpkin pie, so I am not familiar with the ingredients. One of the things I like about this pie is the amount of our homegrown ingredients that go into it.

The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of cream, so I took out a couple of jars of milk and skimmed off some fresh cream. 



I don’t make our pies very sweet. I use 2/3 cup of brown sugar as the sweetener.




Add:
3 eggs

Melt and add 
2 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. vanilla
 

I made one of these once thinking I had mixed it up well. When I went to serve it I thought I had not mashed the squash up well enough when I found a lump. It was a cooked egg yolk! Make sure you mix your ingredients well. 

Pour into the pie crust and bake at 375 degrees on the lowest rack in the oven for 50-60 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean. This is the only recipe I have ever used that has me cook on the bottom rack. I was surprised. 

These Lodge trivets were a great find. We use them frequently when we are canning. Now it awaits the pie.




Frank was going to test the pie with his finger. I told him I wouldn’t recommend that.




This is what our Winter Squash Pie looks like when you serve it up before it is completely cooled. It kind of oozes onto the plate but tastes great!

From the looks of our winter squash crop this summer, we hope to enjoy more pies in the months to come. This is another easy recipe with many homegrown ingredients that we really enjoy.

Until next time – Fern