Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Tale of 3 Yeasts: Day 1

My blog is really about getting back to the basics.  With all this talk of climate crises and overpopulation, I think it is wise to learn about food from scratch.  I started with meat, and as that journey continues, I am adding more.  Something I started thinking about the other day is bread.  What happens if I can't buy those neat little packages of instant yeast anymore?  Would that mean giving up bread and other yeast-based products?  Not on my watch.

Enter A Tale of 3 Yeasts.  Three methods of growing wild yeast from scratch.  Which will be successful?  Which will be the tastiest?  Stay with me to find out!

Before getting started, I thought it might be interesting to talk about yeast a little bit.  Yeast are single-celled organisms and the variety that is used in baking produces carbon dioxide - that is what makes your bread rise!  The yeast cells eat sugar to produce carbon dioxide so any wild yeast needs a sugar source to grow.

The root of the word yeast is "gyst" in Old English and it means to boil, foam, or bubble.  Yeast is ancient and has been found in Egyptian dig sites alongside mill stones and bake ware.  How amazing that bread has been around for that long?  Its role in the modern world is no less important and it has been commercially produced in Holland since the 1700's.

So yeast is an ancient ingredient, is it that hard to make?  I guess we'll see.  I am using three different recipes including a red grape starter, a rye flour starter, and a honey-wheat starter.  All of the recipes are simple and rely on time and warmth to grow the yeast.  The ingredients listed are the ingredients needed for the first day not the entire recipe.  Let's get started.

1 pound of grapes

Today all we are doing is stemming and crushing the grapes by hand.  Then they'll be covered with a piece of cheesecloth and put in a warm place for three days.  The recipe called for organic grapes but my local store didn't have any so I went for a conventionally grown purple seedless grape.  When you are picking out your grapes look for grapes with a nice white dusting on the skin - that is the start of the yeast that you will be growing.  

1/2 cup of rye flour
1/4 cup of potato water (water that potatoes have been boiled in and then cooled)

Mix the rye flour and potato water together.  Again cover the bowl, but this time with a damp piece of cheesecloth and set aside for 24 hours.  The potato water is not in the recipe, but there are naturally occurring yeast cells on the skin of the potato as well as simple carbohydrates that act as a sugar source so that is why I decided to use it instead of spring water.  This was really not very moist so I am interested to see how it turns out.

1/2 tsp honey (unpasteurized I would guess)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup potato water (same as in the previous recipe)

Mix all of the ingredients together in a ceramic bowl and again cover and place in a warm spot.  This will need to be stirred twice a day for five days and then we will check back on it.  For the same reasons outlined in the Rye Flour Starter, I chose to use potato water.

Each of these starters is going to be ready at a different time.  The recipes range from 5 to 9 days.  As each starter is ready, I will make a loaf of sourdough bread to see which recipe gives me the best result.  

This is going to be one tasty experiment!


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