Wild yeast and good bugs

As this is the traditional time of year for fretting about one's health and waistline, as well as for trying new pastimes, we'd like to encourage everyone to give bread making a go.  Specifically, whole grain sourdough bread making.  

Wholegrain, sourdough breads are tasty and nutritious with good keeping qualities and a low GI score.  You can make them without the sugars, fats and baffling ingredients found in a commercial loaf. If you're interested in the science behind behind the benefits of fermenting doughs, have a look at Peter Reinhart's books which include The Bread Baker's Apprentice and Whole Grain Breads (look for them in your local library).

If you're in a rush to get started, call into the cafe and ask Robert for a piece of his sourdough mother.  If you have more patience, it's fun (and a good science project for kids) to make your own by wrangling the wild yeasts in your 'hood. 


Making your own sourdough culture or mother is easy-peasy.  All you need is flour, water, and a love of routine. After 5 days, you’ll have an active mother that you can use for making bread.

Choose a container to get your starter going.  We suggest a large mason jar or something similar that you can keep covered with muslin or a stocking.


Mix 1 parts water to 1 part flour (50g flour to 50g water or ½ cup of flour to ½ cup of water).  Choose wheat, rye or spelt flour without added seeds or malt, or mix the three together.   Rye gives the sourest flavour.  Once it’s mixed, cover and secure with a rubber band or string.

Sourdough starters need a warm environment so keep your mother somewhere cosy, between 20°C and 30°C.  Give it a stir after 12 hours.

After another 12 hours, feed your mother another 1:1 mix of water and flour.  Give it a stir and leave it for 12 more hours.  Follow the feed/stir/feed/stir routine for the next four days.  You can tip out some of your mother when the volume gets too great.


You should see changes after the first day as the wild yeasts in your neighbourhood colonise your starter it begins to ferment.  After 2 days, the mix will be bubbling and rising.  It won’t smell particularly lovely at this stage but by the fifth day, it should have calmed down and be smelling fresh and sharp.

And that’s it – simple.  Your starter will keep in the fridge and can be bulked up to the amount required for bread making.  Weigh off what you need for the recipe and put the rest back in your fridge.

Here are a few pointers for using your culture and keeping it healthy:

  • A culture likes to be used and fed. Even if you’re not planning to make bread, get the starter out every few days and feed it.
  • If your culture is a bit lifeless, throw out 4/5’s and feed it with 1 part water to 1 part flour. Leave it at room temperature for a few hours.
  • A stiffer culture will generally be sourer than a liquid one.  You can control the sourness by varying the proportion of flour to water in the culture.
  • Wet cultures take longer to prove.
  • When making bread, the warmth of wherever it is you are proving your dough has a big effect on how long the dough takes to rise.
  • Keep salt out of your culture until you make a final dough.
  • Refrigerating a sourdough mother gives the natural enzymes in the flour time to make the dough more digestible, release nutrients and add flavour to your bread.