Reviving Sourdough Starter: the Importance of Backing-up AND of Sharing



Homemade sourdough bread

This is why it is so important to have a backup sourdough starter hanging out in the back of the fridge or freezer. You know how important it is to back up data on your computer? Well, backing up your homemade sourdough starter might be even MORE important! (At least in MY  house, it’s right up there!)

It started with a long, hot, busy, humid summer. I didn’t bake much bread but I did keep an eye on my big bucket of sourdough starter. I refreshed it periodically because I gave away quite a bit to folks who wanted to start playing with sourdough. Suddenly, at the very end of the summer, the mold in my kitchen bloomed and seemed to cover every surface with a fine gray-green coat. I think there may have been some kind of invasion into the starter because I pulled the bucket of starter out of the fridge one morning and experienced that smell and sight of Sourdough Starter Gone Terribly Bad.Sourdough bread, hot out of the oven

Remember that in other posts I’ve said over and over, if you just WONDER if your starter is bad, then it’s not. When it’s bad, you have NO DOUBT and you won’t ever ask yourself, “Is this sourdough starter spoiled?” again. And there was no doubt. The entire bucket was a vivid pink and orange vile-smelling mess. So into the trash can the entire thing went.

After just a short moment of panic, I went digging around in the very back of my fridge, looking for an old backup starter. I found several that also needed to be thrown out but I did locate a 1 qt. canning jar that had been in the fridge for about four years without being touched. There was an inch of black liquid on top of the starter–the “hooch” that naturally occurs on top of starters. I poured that off and spooned out about 3 tablespoons of old starter. This old starter was the texture of spackling paste so I was a little worried.

I mixed the old starter with 2 T. of water and 4 T. flour and put the lid on the container.

The following day, it didn’t look like anything had happened. I added 2 more T. of water and 4 more T. flour and covered it back up.

The following day, it looked like something might be stirring, so I threw away half of the container and added another 2 T. of water and 4 T. of flour.

I did this for about week, keeping the container on the kitchen counter the whole time.

At the end of the week, I was starting to see bubbles in the starter when I went to refresh it. I stopped throwing away half and grew the starter a little bit larger.

After about three weeks of nursing the starter along, I tried making bread with it and this is what I got:

Freshly-baked sourdough bread

It was delicious but not as sour as I’d like yet, so I’m continuing to baby this newly revived starter along. Each new batch has a little bit more of the sourdough character that we love.

If my backup hadn’t been revive-able, I had a back-up to my back-up! Over the years I’ve shared a lot of starter and I had at least six local friends who were more than happy to share my starter back with me. Fortunately, I didn’t need them, but it was sure good to know that I did have that back-up.

Moral to the story: in addition to sharing your delicious sourdough bread, share the sourdough starter itself as widely as you possibly can!

Since we haven’t talked about Homemade Sourdough Bread for awhile, I wanted to point you back to a few posts that are our go-to posts for all things sourdough.

Basic Sourdough Bread

Laura’s Sourdough Starter

Whole Wheat Sourdough

The Care and Feeding of Sourdough

Sourdough Starter Redux

What NOT to do with Sourdough

Sourdough Pizza Crust

And finally, a step-by-step tutorial with photos that I posted on a website called Instructables. Barb’s Sourdough Bread Instructable .



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4 thoughts on “Reviving Sourdough Starter: the Importance of Backing-up AND of Sharing

  1. I love all your information on sourdough! I am trying to make sourdough starter for the first time, and it was going well, there were bubbles from day 2 onward and I was feeding it regularly. I need some advice though. I opened it up this morning to feed it and found that there was a small, maybe dime sized, patch of pink on the top near one side of the jar. I removed that whole side of the starter and fed it again, but is it a lost cause now? Should I give up and start over? It’s only day 4 so it won’t be a huge loss, just disappointing after seeing progress.

    • Definitely be on the lookout for pink spots and get rid of them! And be patient with the starter. It might take some time to really develop.

      • Thanks Barb,
        It has continued along and it hasn’t shown any more pink spots so I think I’m safe. It is also continuing to produce the bubbles and so I put it in the fridge to hold until I have time to make bread. I noticed it doesn’t really have the “beer” smell that everyone says to expect…to me it just smells like flour and water to me haha. Is there anything I should add/do?

        • Some times it may take a while for that “hooch” to appear also make sure that you are not over refreshing your starter. By refreshing to often sometimes it won’t allow that flavor to develop.

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