A: According to “Sourdough Cookery”: The Sourdough Cookbook by Rita Davenport, sourdough has been around for 5,000 years or so. She writes, “An Egyptian noticed that some flour he had left out in the open had become wet. Bubbles had formed mysteriously in the mixture. When baked into bread, the mixture had a lighter texture and a superior, tantalizing taste. Today we know that wild airborne yeast fell into the open container of flour and water, causing fermentation. These yeasts are bacteria, similar to bacteria in sour milk or other soured foods, composed of billions of tiny microscopic plants like the organisms found in commercial yeast.” Flash forward a few thousand years. In frontier days, Davenport says,”miners and trappers carried a pot or crock of sourdough starter with them. The fresh yeast that was available at that time spoiled easily, so sourdough that could be replenished was a valued possession. Some starters became famous for their exceptionally good flavor and were passed down from generation to generation and shared with friends.”
That’s how The Food Channel editor got her starter–it was given to her by a co-worker more than 10 years ago, and she has been making sourdough bread at least monthly ever since. Sourdough has the advantage in today’s world of being natural, with no preservatives. Sourdough starter is kept alive and is fed and used again for each new batch of dough.
With a wooden spoon, stir dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and gradually add lukewarm water. Stir until mixture resembles a smooth paste. Cover with a towel or cheesecloth and set in a warm place to sour. Stir mixture several times a day. In 2-3 days sourdough will be ready. Store in a heavy plastic container, with a hole punched in lid to allow gases to escape.
Sourdough should be mixed in glass, stoneware or plastic. Do not use metal since it can reduce the purity and change the flavor of the sourdough.
Store your sourdough in a container with enough head room to allow for expansion.
Remember that sourdough may double in volume before baking, and again while you bake it, so choose pans of sufficient size for the growth.