All About Sourdough Jane McCourt


Making bread from scratch is a truly wonderful, exciting process. As with all the food I prepare and cook, I do it with love. Everything we see, experience, touch, feel is a vibration and one of the highest vibrations of all along with joy and bliss is LOVE. Preparing and cooking food isn’t purely for sustenance, it is not like a utility, just functional. Food can create great joy in your life, provide the healthiest medium by which to feed your body so it can thrive – the ingredients you use along with the intention you set when preparing/cooking food all determine what you, the person, the body, the living thing gain from it. Where possible I use organic – why add extra unnecessary toxins such as heavy metals and pesticide residues to our already toxic living environments? This is what creates sickness, so please let’s all be mindful about the impact food has on our general wellbeing. Organic may be a little more expensive than the normal, although the organic used to be the normal, but on balance your health is worth it. How life has changed over the past 100 years, making things as cheap as possible and in bulk has a price to pay – unfortunately that price is our health.

Being creative, doing something with our hands, reading a recipe, creating food is like alchemy – it is also good for the soul. During all the various stages of menopause, it can create a wonderful diversion, gets you out of your reality for a time, and knowing that you are ultimately producing something that is good for you and creating a healthy environment for you and your body to live through the menopause years must be a bonus.


What exactly is sourdough?

Sourdough is an “ancient bread”, one of the oldest forms of leavened bread and Seamus Blackley, father of the Xbox, baked a loaf using what was purportedly 4,500-year-old yeast scraped off ancient Egyptian pottery. You can read about this in the article highlighted below.

In a fascinating article on sourdough by Franz Lidz published on 11 April, 2020 in the New York Times he interviewed Karl De Sedt, at the Puratos Center for Bread Flavor; the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, in St Vith, Belgium. Karl De Sedt says “working with sourdough is part art, part science. You don’t tell the dough when it’s time to be shaped. The dough tells you!”.

According to Franz Lidz “the library houses the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, those bubbling beige globs of bacteria and wild yeast – known as “mothers” - that bakers mix into dough to produce flavorful loaves with interestingly shaped holes. If a mother isn’t regularly divided and kneaded and fed with flour and water, she will eventually go dormant or die”.

Karl De Sedt says “A starter has its own heart, almost its own will. Treat a starter nice and it will reward you tremendously, like a good friend”.

The difference between a sourdough bread and bread is the yeast. Most bread is made using a commercial yeast – either using the fresh block of yeast or a dried yeast, or one of the other yeast options available. According to article How Baker’s Yeast is Made & Which Type to Use, “there are a lot of different yeast species. The yeast species that you use to make bread, baker’s yeast, is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Nowadays manufacturers can grow this yeast species in a very controlled manner giving you easy access to the useful ingredient. Yeast can also produce carbon dioxide which ensures that your bread rises while proofing”.

As we all know, if we fancy making bread a quick pop to the supermarket for supplies such as dried yeast and an array of different flours and we are all set. There are bread making machines too to make the process easier.

Sourdough is slightly different. To make the sourdough you need a starter or “mother” which is fed on a regular basis with preferably organic flour and water to keep it healthy, alive, and ready for the sourdough bread making session to begin. The process is slightly longer too, with the best results achieved by placing the sourdough in the fridge overnight. The reduction in temperature of the dough allows for it to prove slower and longer which allows for a greater development of flavour and increases digestibility. When dough ferments, or proves, the gluten within the dough naturally breaks down. Because of this, the flavours are enhanced, and the bread is easier for your body to digest.

Quoting from“Sourdough is naturally leavened bread, which means it doesn’t use commercial yeast to rise. Instead, it uses a ‘starter’ – fermented flour and water mixture that contains wild yeast and good bacteria – to rise. This also produces the tangy flavour and slightly chewy texture you’ll find in the sourdough”. The good bacteria are called lactobacillus.

How I got interested in Sourdough and my first loaf.

Following a natural healing journey after a cancer diagnosis, means in real terms, watching everything you eat for what’s in it and for what’s not in it! Searching for products which are the most natural, contain the least ingredients but whose ingredients aid healing, reduce inflammation, and feed you well is key. You must read the labels. Refined commercialized breads do not fit this bill.

Whole grains stoneground contain the whole grain – bran (the outer layer of the seed and contains most of the seed’s fibre), germ (which is the embryo and has the potential to sprout into a new plant) and endosperm (also called the kernel and makes up the bulk of the seed). Wholegrains are great for both digestive and colon health. There are many types of grain used in bread, and I love finding the older varieties such as spelt and rye, finding small flour mills who produce flour more in the old ways, sometimes using only horsepower on their farms such as the flour produced by J & F Waterer at Higher Biddacott Farm in Devon There is such a variety available that you can make your sourdough taste just the way you like it. You can experiment with white and wholemeal flours, malted wheat flakes, add sunflower or pumpkin seeds, the list is endless and the combinations too.

Since I moved to North Devon in October 2020, I have met some amazing people, on the same page as me and into health and healing in an holistic way (definition of holistic healing according to “holistic medicine is a form of healing that considers the whole person..body, mind, spirit, and the quest for optimal health and wellness). One such person is Ian, who I met at a music event. Ian is vegan, loves Tamla Motown, dancing and makes sourdough bread, a good fun healthy combination in my book. After experiencing his bread, I was hooked! I wanted to know all about it and how to make it. Ian showed me his starter or mother which had been given to him by a friend, and this began my quest into finding a starter for my bread. I came across a small company called Kombucha Organic and they had a Lake District Wild Yeast Organic Sourdough Starter which was started in 1979.

It contained the necessary standard approvals such as Vegan Approved Organic Certified by OF&G (organic farmers & growers) and UKAS Lab Tested. And in their words this starter “was started in 1979 in one of the Lake District small organic bakers (this is live starter – not a freeze-dried cheap starter which will likely fail). Made using only the best flour, traditionally crafted organic stoneground rye flour from Bacheldre Watermill. Perfect for artisan breads, lifetime supply with one purchase – 100% natural organic wild yeast sourdough fed twice a day and used in our organic bakery everyday”. I had found my starter – so I ordered some. And in the care instructions they said “feeding and looking after it should be easy and killing the starter shouldn’t be an option (unless left in the fridge without feed for a few weeks or for a few days outside the fridge without feed)” – a starter with a sense of humour!

I was so excited when it arrived. I placed it into a kilner jar, had a little chat to it, welcomed it into my life, fed it with water and organic stoneground flour – then left it overnight. In the morning it had expanded rather a lot and was creeping out the top of the jar! I have since made my first loaf using a mixture of organic flours. If you don’t have time to search for specialist flours, then most supermarkets and farm shops carry organic flours from Doves Farm. The taste and texture is amazing – it has now become part of my weekly life – a fresh loaf every week. I love it with raw unprocessed honey, but you can add any topping that you fancy.

There are many recipes that can be downloaded or taken from cookbooks on how to make sourdough bread. On the advice of Ian, I have used one called Realbread Rising – Easy to follow Sourdough Recipe from the website of > Click on Sourdough September 2021. Easy to follow, very informative and creates the most sublime sourdough. One extra tip, again provided by Ian, is to lightly oil the Pyrex bowl with a little olive oil to prevent the dough from sticking whilst cooking. It works!

Bakers Mark - another interesting part to making sourdough is the creation of your own “bakers mark” – this is a symbol created by yourself which you put into the top of the sourdough before baking with a sharp knife. Anyone can then identify your loaf from the crowd. I found that it gave me an enormous feeling of pleasure to see my mark on the newly baked loaf. I felt that I had created something worthwhile, and it has given me great pleasure to create a different loaf each week for the family, each one displaying my own mark.

Happy Baking. I would love to hear what combinations work for others who love to bake sourdough, what your first experience was like and especially where you obtained your first starter from. From my understanding, some people use starters that originate from family members from generations back, some starters have different ingredients in them depending on which part of the world they originate in. A fascinating hobby I have found with some fascinating stories.

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