To dig into the nitty-gritty of why you may want to use sourdough, other than the delightful taste and variety of ways in which it can be used, please see my article, "Wolves in Sheep's Clothing", but be prepared, it is one of my more extensive posts.
In a nutshell and looking at it from a nourishment standpoint, the reason we want sourdough is because it is flour that is soaked over a period of time. Soaked flour is good because the phytic acid, which blocks nutrients has been mostly and sometimes totally, negated in the process of soaking. Phytic acid serves the purpose of protecting the seed until it germinates. In days of old, (think: pictures of wheat sheaves standing in the fields), grains weren't processed immediately as they are via manufacturing processes today. The grains were left in the field, subject to the moisture of rain and morning dew, as well as the warmth of the day's sun. These environmental factors triggered germination.
When germination happens, phytase (an enzyme within the seed), is released. Phytase neutralizes the guardian, phytic acid and now all the nutrients within the seed are available for absorption. There are so many great nutrients in grains, but the irony is that they do us little good if they cannot be assimilated.Therefore, all that good money we pour into fancy breads at the store, is pretty much wasted. If you want to really get real...even our chewing these products is wasted. (And I haven't even touched sugar content and words in the ingredient list that are barely pronounceable.)
One more little thing...Some, (not all), who think they have grain allergies find that when they consume grain products that have first been soaked, they have no problem after all.
Here's how to get yours started:
Use 2 Cups fresh rye or whole wheat flour. I am using three sources to try to give you the best, most well-rounded instructions for traditional sourdough starter. All three, (Nourishing Traditions, GNOWFGLINS, and "The Lost Art of Real Cooking"), say that rye flour is a great way to go in sourdough starter. Although I interchange my 'feeding flour' (we'll get to that later), I have found that rye is definitely good for starting sourdough, and those times when my sourdough seems to be a little 'weak', I will feed it with rye rather than my usual wheat. I have also used whole wheat with fine success. Since this is a traditional cooking site, we won't even go to the land of processed white flours...I hope you won't either.
If you are without your own grain mill, (I was for a long time), a great flour to use is King Arthur. Really good news about that: Non-GMO! It gives beautiful results in cooking, too. Wardeh of GNOWFGLINS also recommends Bob's Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills for the same reasons.
Mix the flour with 2 Cups cold, filtered water. Filtered water because we don't want the chlorine which can inhibit enzyme action. I have read that you can also eliminate chlorine via evaporation by boiling water for 10 minutes. If you do this, be sure to let the water cool before adding it to the flour. The mixture will be a runny liquid. To keep bugs out, but let in beneficial yeast and bacteria, cover with a tea towel and affix in place with a rubber band. DO NOT USE PLASTIC WRAP OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT WON'T ALLOW IN AIR.
Keep the mixture in a warm place and feed it every day for a seven-day week.
EACH DAY: Transfer mixture to fresh bowl, add 1 Cup flour and 1 Cup filtered water, (+ more if needed to keep the mixture runny.) Replace covering and put it all back in it's 'warm spot'.
You'll notice with time that little bubbles appear on the surface. It may even get a little foamy looking before balancing back into a bubbly batter. If a thin coating of liquid rises to the top, stir it back in. All this is good. What is it? Signs of life!
Some recipes may call for adding honey to the starter, but refrain, please. The yeasts honey attracts will battle with the good bacteria you are trying to build and the batter could over-ferment, giving an alcohol result.
Use as recipes direct.
Save a pint to a quart for starter in a new batch...OR...keep a continuous ferment going, (see my method below), and you'll never have to start a new batch!
Store in fridge or even, freezer.
This is the way it was done in the pioneering days...and before there were refrigerators: This was a staple of the cook on "Wagon Train", Laura Ingall's family, and Anne of Avonlea. (Okay, she was fictitious, but it's historically accurate fiction.) Back then, this was valuable stuff...especially for the cowboys and pioneers...It might just supply all there would be of supper.
Here's what to do:
If you don't use any starter, remove and discard a cup of the batter, then add 1 Cup Water, 1 Cup flour. Stir. Cover, and replace.
If you do use starter that day, only add 1 Cup Water and 1 Cup flour. Stir. Cover, and replace.
When the vessel you have chosen, (an old, crackless crock works great), starts to develop a crust on the inside, change to another vessel at feeding. If you like keeping the starter in that particular vessel, clean it and pour the starter back into it.
Wardeh of GNOWFGLINS recommends feeding twice daily, but I've never been good at maintaining that.
If you forget to feed your starter, it will remind you by emitting an unpleasant odor. SEE HERE for what to do if that happens.
LINKS to Sourdough Recipes.
Be READY...The links I provide may also give their own way to 'do' starter. You won't hurt my feelings if you use something other than what's given here. But don't get confused...they all work. However, some get fancy-schmancy and there really isn't any need.
First of all, I cannot recommend GNOWFGLINS highly enough to anyone interested in ALL aspects of traditional cooking. The classes, technology, and organization are exemplary, and the spirit of Wardeh and all her guests is gently beautiful. I don't get any 'kick-back' for recommending her...I just love her classes. They can cost as little as $8.00/month and give more than your money's worth. There are forums and constant updates...Well, it's just hard not to gush. -And, it just so happens that one of her fortes is sourdough! You'll get recipes that can accomodate any meal, and snacks to boot! So, go there.
Also, if you want a book that gives the greatest simplistic recipes for sourdough done traditionally, get "The Lost Art of Traditional Cooking"...you'll get sourdough and a whole lot more.
Kneadless Sourdough Bread
Sourdough French Toast Casserole
Everyday Sourdough Bread
Blackberry (Any Berry!) Sourdough Muffins