I looked skeptically into the jar I was holding. A whiff of fermentation greeted me. Small bubbles gave the surface of the sourdough starter a foamy look. I gave the soured batter another whiff. Yes, without a doubt. I had created an Accidental Sourdough Starter. This accident of good fortune would be my main food source for the rest of summer.
Sourdough Starter is easy to make. It's so easy in fact that when I was stricken with wanderlust in the 1960's while exploring the wild west. I made a simple sourdough starter quite by accident.
This is a great food to make from scratch. And a simple food to begin the more complicated journey of cooking in the bush.
This happy discovery of fermented soured dough. Replaced my bland batter with a tasty, zingy, cheap, survival food.
So, if your down to your last bag of flour. Or want to broaden your food choices for your next survival camp. And eat like cowboys and bold pioneers. Then give this no-frills beginners sourdough starter a try.
Accidental Starter Recipe
This is my original accidental sourdough starter recipe. And once I understood the flour, water, and natural yeast all worked together. I found using this recipe, easy, painless, a sourdough starter recipe you will find.
A kitchen list to replicate accidental sourdough starter
- 1-16 0z glass mason jar (Any wide mouth glass, ceramic jar, food grade Nalgene water bottle will work.)
- handkerchief. (Or a thin small cotton towel to act as a breathable lid)
- 1- heavy rubber band or cord. To hold or tie the handkerchief over the jar mouth as a breathable lid
- A long handled wooden spoon. 12" long, is a good length. (Or a clean carved sturdy twig to stir the flour and water into a batter.)
- 1 - heavy dish towel. This should be large enough to wrap the bottom and side of the glass jar to protect it from breakage. The dish towel provides insulation for the liquid ingredients.
Accidental Sourdough Starter Ingredients
- Flour - add 1/2 of the jar volume of unbleached flour (Any flour will do)
- Water - add 1/2 of the jar volume with good drinking water
Use Equal Amounts of Ingredients
Flour and water are the two ingredients needed to start. It helps to measure ingredients in equal amounts. An example is 1-cup of water to 1-cup of flour. After you begin drawing starter for everyday cooking. Replenish ingredients in equal parts
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup water
Because starter batter rises during fermentation. As your starter grows keep it at or under 2/3rd's volume of the jar. After a few mishaps this amount of liquid ingredients in the jar worked well for me. And reduced spillage in my pack.
Mix the Flour & Water Well
After you have added the water and flour together in the jar. Mix well into a thick batter consistency. Don't make the batter too thin, just thick enough so the batter will not easily slide off a spoon or stir stick.
A few clumps of flour in the batter are fine. As the starter begins to work it will sort out the clumps of flour on its own. Here is a photo of the starter after 4-days at room temperature.
Starter and Air Temperature
As I prepare the starter the daytime outside temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees. Any temperature above 70- degrees and the action of the yeast is more rapid.
The higher the temperature the more quickly the yeast will consume the food, flour. Give or take a few degrees. 70- degrees is a good room temperature to get the natural yeast to begin.
Cooler Temperatures Slow Fermentation
The cooler the outside temperature the slower the yeast feeds on the flour. So, if you're living off your sourdough during cooler weather it will take longer for the fermentation process to complete.
But don't worry. Sourdough starter is tough. It continues to work even in cold temperatures and does not die easily.
However, since we are a traveling sourdough starter. The air temperature will vary as the outside weather determines. Keeping the jar wrapped with a heavy cloth will help keep the starter insulated and the temperature more consistent.
Once you have mixed the starter ingredients together. Place the breathable cloth lid over the mouth of the jar. Secure with the rubber band or cord. If you're trying this out at home, then place the jar in a dark place free of drafts. Cupboards are good places for this.
Otherwise, place the jar in the home you made for it in your pack.
Now you wait. Check your starter the next morning and see how it's doing. You may see a few bubbles on top of the batter.
After the third day you should start seeing a lot more activity. And by the fourth day your starter may begin to show a frothy consistency on the surface. This is a good sign.
Feed your Starter
By the third or fourth day of fermentation your starter may be ready to be fed.
There are a couple of ways to do this. As your batter begins to thin and loose that thick consistency. Add equal amounts of flour and water to the jar and mix well. Put the cloth lid back on and set the starter aside until the next day. Where, depending on how fast it's working it may need to be fed again
Accidental Sourdough Bread Recipe for the Campfire
First become an expert in fire making before you cook over that campfire.
- pour off a 1/3 or more of your starter into your eating bowl
- mix in equal amount of flour and a bit more
- stir the starter and flour until it forms a ball
- Keep adding extra flour as needed to prevent sticking to bowl and hands. (Rub flour between hands will keep the dough from sticking to them.)
- let the dough rest for a few minutes
- pinch off a small piece of dough and pat it out to a rough circle shape
- the thinner the dough the better for fast cooking
- lay the patted-out dough on hot coals of your fire to bake. Or on a hot rock by the fire. (Or cook in a fry pan over the campfire). Flip it over
- When it's done baking brush the ashes off the bread. Then eat.
Replace Flour and Water
Always replace the starter you removed with equal amounts of flour and water. Mix well, and Bob's your Uncle. Cover the jar with the cloth lid. Stash it away. You'll have a fresh batch of starter for breakfast the next day.
By day 6 or 7 of feeding your starter. You will have your own honest to goodness accidental sourdough starter. One you will be proud of.
Leavening and Rising of the Dough
There is quite a bit of chemistry involved in Leavening. But with the accidental sourdough you don't have to be overly concerned. The starter itself is a leavening agent. As your starter becomes more vibrant and active the more your bread and pancakes will rise while cooking and baking.
Hooch and Fermentation
As the yeasts feed on the flour, it creates a liquid by-product called hooch. Hooch is a dark liquid that rises to the top of the starter after it has consumed the flour. Hooch is alcohol created from the fermentation process of yeast and flour. With an alcohol content of .5 to .2.
This fermented liquid is very sour to the taste. I pour off the hooch from the jar and dispose of it not mixing it back into the starter. It won't hurt you to mix it back in.
And the more hooch in your starter the sourer your starter will be. But there is a point where I find it too sour and not appealing to my taste.
Secure the lid
Cover your jar mouth with the cloth lid. Securing the cloth lid with a rubber band or cord.
Protect the Jar from Breakage
Before I placed the jar into my backpack, I wrapped the thick dish towel under and around the jar. The towel helped protect the glass jar from breaking in my pack.
I found a home for the mason jar inside my main pack where it was surrounded by soft gear. This added extra security from breakage.
Broken glass is the last thing you want in your backpack.
Instead use a food grade 1-liter Nalgene water bottle with a wide mouth. A much better alternative to wandering the wilds with glass in your backpack.
Your all set. You've mixed your ingredients in just the right volume to keep the starter from spilling. You have covered the mouth of the jar with the cloth lid and rubber band or cord. And wrapped the whole jar in a thick towel to protect it. And you have stashed it safely in your pack.
Pancakes are immensely popular with our family. Both my folks were excellent cooks and served us homemade pancakes for both breakfast and dinner. So, I had watched and learned from them.
Years later after beating the bush for a while. I learned to make a delicious wild elderberry syrup to go along with our camp cakes. Can you say wow!
When it came time for me to pack my camping gear and hit the trail. I wanted to bring a food that I knew how to cook. Enjoyed to eat and was inexpensive to keep in stock. So, bread flour it was.
Sourdough Pancakes Recipe for the Trail
- preheat your skillet over the hot coals of your campfire
- when the skillet is hot enough add a couple of teaspoons or more of cooking oil or butter to the pan
- give the starter in the jar a good stir. It should have a consistency of a thin to medium batter
- pour the sourdough batter directly from the jar onto the hot skillet
- cook, flip, eat. Repeat.
How does Accidental Sourdough Work?
Flour contains its own natural yeast and there is wild yeast floating about in the air. These yeasts left on their own and mixed with flour and water. Made my accidental sourdough starter. This happened through a process known as fermentation.
The process of bacteria, flour, and fermentation date back to the early beginnings of Mankind's food culture. I believe our early ancestors across the world used the same or similar process for a variety of applications. From yogurt, to Kimchee, to beer. And yes, even Sourdough.
I traveled with this accidental starter as I hitchhiked from California to British Columbia and beyond during my teenage years. At each meal I replaced the flour and water I drew from the batter. This insured the fermentation of the flour and water to produce enough Starter for my next meal.
This is my simple recipe. There are hundreds of ways to work with sourdough. But I think you will find this recipe an easy one to start with.
Let me know how you do. And please ask any questions on this topic. I have lots to share and would like to hear about your adventures with accidental sourdough.