Grinding Flax & Other Bread Making Lore

We finally used the ground flax we bought for our sourdough bread and have begun grinding our own. We found a place to buy bulk flax in 50 lb. bags that we pour into five gallon buckets with Gamma seal lids. This is explained in this article with our bread recipe, well what used to be our bread recipe, I have changed it somewhat – again.

We are grinding the flax using the KitchenAid grinding attachment. It is slow, but does the job. When making the last batch of bread, we switched the grind to a coarser setting than what we started out with, so it doesn’t take as long and the texture is good. Some folks may want a finer grind, but we like it this way.


This grind is definitely more coarse than the store bought, and it also is more oily, which shows me that ground flax has some things removed to make it shelf stable, just like whole wheat flour. We are really happy to add our own ground flax to our bread.

The difference in the recipe came when Frank asked me to make biscuits and gravy one day for a treat. I dug out the sourdough biscuit recipe I had used before and realized the only real difference was the addition of two tablespoons of baking soda. I also didn’t knead the dough with the KitchenAid dough hooks like I did for bread. The biscuits turned out really good, they weren’t crumbly from lack of kneading, so now I make regular bread the same way. I stir it in the bowl with a spoon and my hands if needed, but no kneading. That’s it. Doesn’t take as long and reminds me of how I used to make regular whole wheat bread without the assistance of the dough hooks and a machine.

Everyday starter on the left, stored refrigerator starter on the right.


It was time to feed the extra sourdough starter I keep in the frig when I made this batch of bread, so I also put the everyday starter in a clean jar. I pour about half of the stored starter in the everyday jar, refresh what is left with more water and flour, then return it to the frig. It’s then good to go for about a month or so. Did you know that the vertical ridges down the side of a half gallon jar have an indention on the inside of the jar? Me neither, until one time I was washing the sourdough starter jar, which takes more elbow grease than a milk jar. The starter leaves a film on the inside of the jar that needs to be scrubbed well. If anyone had ever asked me, I would have said the inside of the jar is smooth and flat. It’s not, and starter wants to stay in those little grooves. An old toothbrush works well to clean the grooves.


One of our new buckets of hard red winter wheat ended up being white wheat, even though the bucket was labeled red. I knew the berries were almost twice as big as the previous bucket of hard red wheat, but didn’t realize it was white wheat until we made a batch of bread out of it. It’s okay, and some folks probably prefer the taste of white wheat since it is more like a store bought bread flavor, but we prefer the taste of hard red wheat. It is a hardier kind of taste and hard to describe. So we resealed the bucket of white wheat and marked it ‘open’ and ‘white’ so we can skip over it. If we need it someday, it will be there, but for now, we will continue to eat hard red wheat.

Do you know what you do when the squash starts producing? You eat lots of squash, even on your pizza. We use the same sourdough bread recipe for pizza dough that we use for everyday bread. The toppings change from time to time, depending on what we have available. This version has ground pork, frozen peppers from last summer, fresh crookneck squash, tomato sauce we canned last summer and our mozzarella. Well done, just like we like it. But the dough came out thicker than we like, so I’ll leave the baking soda out of the pizza dough next time. Like Frank says, our bread and pizza never taste quite the same from batch to batch.

Enjoy what you have. Learn everyday. Appreciate the opportunities, talents and challenges you’ve been given. It’s what makes life worth living.
Until next time – Fern

Low Carb Pizza

I have been trying out different ways to make a low carb pizza using our whole wheat sourdough starter. Frank and I switched to eating low carb in December 2014, and plan to continue eating that way forever. We have both lost around 45 pounds since we changed our eating habits, and this has changed our lives for the better. Because of this change, I have been experimenting with different low carb meals. Some are a success, some aren’t and some need a little more tweaking.

For the crust, I used whole wheat sourdough starter. I put olive oil on the plates, spread out some starter, then baked it for about 15 minutes while I got the toppings ready. I wanted it to be cooked before I added any sauce, so it wouldn’t be too wet.

I used some of the tomato sauce we canned a few years ago. I’m trying to use up the last few jars. To the sauce I added salt, pepper, basil, oregano, parsley and some of the garlic we canned a few months back.

The garlic has worked out very well. We have already used one pint and opened a second. I’m thinking we may need to can another batch of 16 pints.

I layered tomato sauce, browned sausage, onions, sweet peppers from the garden and some of our shredded mozzarella. 

After it was constructed, the pizza baked for another 10 minutes at 450*.
 

Our side dish this evening was a bowl of collard and beet greens picked from the garden. We think the turnip greens are better, but collard greens are just fine, too.

The olive oil didn’t work very well, and the ‘crust’ stuck a little. It was also softer or moister than I prefer, but the flavor was good. I think I’ll have to try making a dough for the crust sometime, but I’ll need to make it in the morning for the evening meal. That will give time for the starter to digest the carbohydrates in the whole wheat flour, which not only reduces the carb load, but releases many useful vitamins and minerals.

Now the final version. What Frank thought. “You can live on it. Maybe after it’s tweaked, you could live on it happily.” 

There are so many different ways to eat healthy. We try to find ways to grow or make our own with everything we eat. There are many, many low carb products on the market, but if it is feasible for us to make our own, we would much rather do so. It’s part of choosing. As long as we still have the freedom to choose, we choose not to participate in the processed, prepackaged, chemicalized items corporate America puts on the grocery shelves and calls food. It takes time and effort to learn, produce, and prepare real food, but it is worth it.

Until next time – Fern
 

Fern’s Low Carb Meat Pie

After Frank and I changed the way we eat, I tried to dream up some new meals that were low in carbohydrates, that were filling and also taste good. It’s one thing to eat low carb, it’s another thing to eat low carb stuff that tastes like cardboard. So this is a meal I dreamed up that actually tastes very good. The best thing about it is the versatility of ingredients allows you to make the ‘same thing’ frequently by changing what you put into it. I didn’t know what to call this dish, so I made that up, too.

I discovered along the way that you can make a sourdough starter with cornmeal. I’m not sure where I found the information about it, I can’t find the link if I saved it. I took some of my whole wheat sourdough starter and gradually introduced cornmeal, hoping it wouldn’t kill it. After a couple of weeks, I was feeding it straight cornmeal. The ‘sour’ smell is stronger with cornmeal than flour, but it works just fine. The fermentation process of a sourdough starter predigests the carbohydrates in the flour or cornmeal it is fed. This lowers the carbohydrate count in the final product substantially. One half cup of sourdough starter contains roughly 4 to 5 carbohydrates. I have made the Meat Pie with both types of starter, whole wheat and cornmeal, and they both taste fine. This is another way to make the same meal different.

I start off with some butter in a cast iron skillet. For a standard skillet I use about four to five tablespoons. This skillet is a little smaller and four tablespoons would have been plenty. Put the skillet in the oven for about five minutes while it is preheating to 450* and you are preparing your ingredients. Brown or cook your meat of choice. I am using ground chuck this time. I have also made this with diced ham and sausage. Use whatever sounds good.

 
Make sure the butter coats the bottom of your pan, then pour in 1/2 cup of sourdough starter. I’m using the cornmeal version this time. Spread out your starter to cover the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle the meat onto the starter, as much or as little as you desire.

Add any vegetables and toppings you like. This time I am using fresh sliced squash. I have used canned, drained squash as well and it tastes very good. Sliced mushrooms and frozen sweet peppers from last summer go great in this combination.

We also used grated homemade cheddar cheese. This is the second wheel we have opened this summer. It was waxed April 14th. It is not as dry as the first wheel, and it has a very smooth texture and not as many holes. Very good.

That’s all I’m adding this time. You can see how versatile this recipe is. I can hear you thinking, “Hmmm…..I can add this and this……”, and you can. It can be a pizza flavored dish, or have a Mexican flare with salsa and jalapeno peppers. The versatility is only limited by the imagination you put into it.



Depending on the ingredients you add, bake at 450* for about 20 to 30 minutes. If you add moist ingredients like salsa or ranch dressing, increase your baking time to allow for the extra moisture. Since I used fresh squash instead of canned, I had to allow 30 minutes before it softened up and was ready to serve.

The sourdough starter will come out as a crunchy crust, not as thick as pizza crust, and crunchier. Since I had more butter than I really needed this time, the crust was more of a chewy crunchy. But if that’s what you prefer, you can adjust accordingly. 

This meal is really good, low carb and good for you. Of course the ingredients you choose to include will affect your carb count. If you don’t need to watch your carb intake, you can still use this recipe to make a variety of meals, tailored to your family’s tastes and preferences. Use your imagination, and you will be surprised what you can come up with. Frank and I have each lost almost 40 pounds in less than seven months. There isn’t much you can’t do if you set your mind to it. Thankfully for us, the time arrived when we decided to change our lives for the better. We’re very glad we did.

Until next time – Fern

Low Carb Fried Chicken

I think I have made a great discovery. Frank loves fried chicken, well, we both do. After we changed our diets to accommodate a low carbohydrate intake, I no longer fried chicken. But I have only found so many ways to bake or saute chicken that meets our dietary requirements and supports our weight loss.

As I was pondering new and delicious ways to fix chicken, I ran across some information about sourdough starter and it’s carbohydrate content. As the starter ferments it predigests, or consumes much of the carbohydrates in flour. When sourdough bread is made and left to proof, or ferment, the starter will consume much of the carbohydrates in the wheat, creating a bread that is lower in carbohydrates compared to yeast made breads. This got me to thinking about different ways I can use my sourdough starter. I am very interested in what you think about this information. Here are some of the things I have read.
 
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From Cultures for Health: Low Carb Fermented Foods 

“One of the beauties of the fermentation process is that it actually lowers the carbohydrate count of the food you are fermenting.

Fermentation occurs when bacteria feasts off of the carbohydrates found in a food. In making kombucha that food is the sugar. In making sourdough bread that food is the flour. In making sauerkraut that food is the carbohydrates in the cabbage. In making yogurt that food is the lactose naturally occurring in milk.

In fermentation, the sugars and starches are eaten up by the bacteria cultures, and converted to lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and more bacteria. So, by definition, fermentation is a process one could use to lower the dietary carbohydrate levels found in various foods.

It is difficult to know the exact carbohydrate count of a fermented food, but there is one principle to keep in mind if you are concerned about the carbohydrates in your fermented foods:

The longer the fermentation time, the more carbohydrates eaten up by the organisms, the more sour the ferment, the lower the dietary carbohydrate count.

So by controlling the culturing, you control the carbohydrates found in fermented foods and in this way you can eat low-carb and enjoy many fermented foods.”

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From Daniel Reed: Sourdough Bread and Health

“Researchers in Sweden at Lund University have noted that the fermentation process that’s involved in the creation of sourdough utilizes carbohydrates, lowering the carbohydrate level in the dough as it’s transformed to lactic acid. The result of this process means that sourdough bread can aid in ensuring that your blood glucose level remains in line, helping to guard against various diseases especially diabetes.”

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With this information in hand, the question then became how many carbohydrates that are contained in fresh ground whole wheat flour are ‘consumed’ during the fermentation process? There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on the numbers. If you look up the number of carbs in whole wheat flour, you will find that a bag of whole wheat flour at the store, and flour you just made from grinding up wheat berries appear to have a different carb counts, and quite a different amount of nutritional value. 

Nutrition Data indicates that 1 cup of whole wheat flour has 87g of carbs and 15g of fiber. Subtracting the fiber from the carb count gives a total of 72g of carbs. It doesn’t indicate whether this is store bought flour or fresh ground whole wheat flour.

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The Whole Truth has an article that says, When wheat is ground for commercial flour sales, the bran is first removed and the germ and oil in particular are separated out, since these spoil in a short period of time. The remaining endosperm is then finely ground, leaving white flour. In order to market “whole-wheat flour,” a small percentage of the bran is returned to the product, yet it still lacks the germ and thus is far from being “WHOLE” wheat flour.”

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There are a few opinions out there about how many carbs are consumed during the fermentation process, but most indicate it would depend upon the length of time the flour is allowed to ferment. There are several forums that discuss possible numbers like this one. I have done some thinking on this. The starter itself should not be high carb if you consider the example of wine. One bottle of wine contains approximately 2.6 lbs of grapes. That would make the carb load 468 grams. However we know that there only remain around 30g of carbs in a bottle. Hence we know how much the beasties eat. Essentially we are left with 7 % of the original carb count. Two problems with this. Wine ferments on average for 2 weeks. This starter takes 4 days. Second, we cannot automatically assume that the uptake of carbohydrates is the same with flour as with grape juice. If I was to make this I would assume 20% of carbs remaining to be on the safe side.”

 
So, if I take the 72g of carbs in 1 cup of commercial whole wheat flour, add it to the sourdough starter and let it ferment all day, or a minimum of 8 hours, and multiply that by 20%, I get 14.4 carbs. 

Now, what does all of this have to do with fried chicken? I started all of this research to try to get a reasonable estimate of how many carbohydrates would be in 1/2 cup of our whole wheat sourdough starter. After all of this reading, I determined that 1/2 cup of starter should, could or probably contains about 7 or 8 grams of carbohydrates. That is doable for us on the amount of carbohydrates we are limiting ourselves to during this phase of our diet.

I mixed 1/2 cup of starter that had not been fed for over 8 hours, with one egg, cut up the chicken (which we raised; it doesn’t have skin), dipped each piece in the batter, shook off any excess, and fried it up. I realized after we were eating that I hadn’t thought to put any salt and pepper in the batter which would have made the chicken better. But, you know what? It was really good. Like I said before, we both like fried chicken and we hadn’t had any for over four months.

When figuring our carb count for the chicken in this meal, I count it at 6g of carbs per person. That is probably higher than it actually is, but I would rather error on the high side than the low side. We only have a meal like this about once a week or less, but it does add a tasty alternative to the way we have changed our eating style.

My question for you is this. Do you think I am close to accurate in my assessment of the carbohydrate contents of the sourdough starter? I don’t want to try to kid myself into thinking I am fixing a low carb meal if I’m really not. I know there are many differences between sourdough starters that are fed all purpose white flours instead of only fresh ground whole wheat. But if this really is a decent low carb way to fry chicken, then I am happy to provide an occasional tasty meal for my husband. 

Until next time – Fern
 

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

Adding Sourdough To The Menu

I have tried to get a sourdough starter going a couple of times over the past few years, but it just doesn’t work. This time was no different. I had read that using potato water was good for a starter so when I made potato salad recently, I tried again.

I got out my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and followed the directions. It never did start. So I dumped it out….again.

 

In the meantime I contacted a relative that I knew had a starter that she had been using for years to see if she could send me some. She was more than happy to do so and it arrived Christmas Eve, a nice present.

This is a starter with a history. It was given to my relative in 1986 when they moved to Anchorage, Alaska. They met some friends who were part owners of a lodge on the Iliamna River. These friends had gotten the starter from an elderly man who had lived on the river for years. At that time, 1986, the starter was 85 to 90 years old. It has made several moves from Alaska to their current home and now to ours. I think that is really neat. Now, if I can just keep my part of it alive.

I am brand new to sourdough and caring for a starter so this is a very introductory post. When we got it from the post office, we brought it home and fed it. This consisted of giving it 1 cup of white flour and 1 cup of water. I stirred it up well, covered it with some cheese cloth and crossed my fingers. Throughout the day, I checked it and stirred it up a few more times. It worked! It bubbled up a little and looked like the descriptions I had read. Yea! So far so good.

After it’s arrival and apparent living state, I began to look through my cookbooks. I actually thought I had a sourdough cookbook, but found I didn’t. There are some recipes in Cookin’ With Home Storage that I looked at. Then I searched online and found some information and recipes. Then I went and found a couple of cookbooks and ordered them. In the meantime, I fed the starter on Christmas again and it looked healthy so I decided to try it out in a bread recipe. The first one I tried didn’t rise. Well, it may have risen half an inch. So we got another taste of brick bread. This is what Frank calls the bread I make that doesn’t rise well and is very heavy. The taste was fine, it was just very dense and heavy. Disappointing, but not too surprising since I was using starter and no yeast for the first time.

So for the next loaf I tried a different method. I found a recipe that had me start the sponge the night before. So I took one cup of my starter, added two cups of fresh ground whole wheat flour and 3/4 cup of water. Stirred very well, several times, covered with cheese cloth and let sit out all night.

The reason I have wanted to learn how to maintain a starter and be able to bake without yeast is because one day I fully expect to run out of yeast and not be able to get anymore. This is another step I have wanted to take in becoming more self-reliant. Just like learning about and maintaining kefir. I will one day run out of yogurt culture, but want to be able to produce a product that will help maintain our digestive health. The funny thing is, after we received the sourdough starter and I started looking for recipes online, I ran across this information on “the health benefits of sourdough bread.” God works in mysterious ways. No doubt about it. I had never even considered the possibilities of sourdough having added health benefits compared to regular yeast breads. I was surprised. So here are the health benefits listed from that article.

  •  the longer rising/soaking time [like making the sponge overnight] breaks down the gluten making it more easily digestible, therefore making it better for those with gluten intolerance
  • the bacteria present in the starter eat the starches and sugars in the grain lowering the carbohydrate content of the bread, thus helping to regulate blood sugar; also increases vitamin and mineral content of the grain
  • lactic acid predigests the grain for you
  • bacteria present activates phytase, an enzyme that breaks down phytic acid which can strip your body of minerals and be hard on your digestion 

Amazing! That is what I thought when I read this information. I had no idea. It reminds me of the wolf spider and finding out they carry their babies on their back. The world is just full of unique opportunities for learning and I cherish them, especially if they prove useful to our endeavors to be healthier and return to a more natural state.

The bread we made from the overnight sponge was great! I only made enough for one loaf just to try out the recipe. When I turned it out, I thought it was a little much, but I didn’t know if it would turn into brick bread again, so I left it all together instead of dividing it into two loaves. Well, it just about fell out of the pan it rose so much. So here is a comparison of my first two loaves.

I have since made another batch with the overnight sponge, this time dividing it into two loaves. It didn’t rise near as much and since we had company and I wanted to bake it for lunch, I didn’t wait on it as long either. The loaves were smaller, but still had a great flavor.

I have left the original starter out on the cabinet since it’s arrival, feeding it everyday. A few days ago, I took about a cup and a half of it and put it in the frig to see if I can keep it alive. It’s next to my extra kefir grains that I am also experimenting with to see if I can store them and keep them alive as well. Both will need to be fed once a week, so that will be one of my Saturday chores.

We have been provided with many different opportunities to be self-sustaining when it comes to food. There have been many things produced by man in the past decades that we are not able to reproduce and we didn’t give them a second thought for many years. Now the more I

read and learn, the more I realize how important the ‘old knowledge’ and skills are. Like gardening and heirloom or open pollinated seeds that will reproduce themselves, unlike the hybrid varieties. Speaking of which, have you ordered your seeds yet? When you do, order or buy more than you will ever need in a couple of lifetimes. I truly believe they will soon be worth more than gold. Do you know how many people you can feed with just one seed?

Learn all you can. Books, online sources and easy access to information may not always be around. Be ready, be diligent, be vigilant. Wolves may come knocking in sheep’s clothing.

Until next time – Fern