Capturing the Wild Wee Beasties

By Val Van Meier

New starter immediately after it’s first feeding

The “wee beasties” are multiplying, they are taking over, trapped gases from their growth causing the flour mixture to expand. Yeast, invisible to the naked eye, is a fun science experiment.

Several years ago I read a blog post by P.J. Hamel, who writes for King Arthur Baking Company. She explained how to capture wild yeast, grow it, and bake with it. I tried her method to capture yeast from apples, wild cherry, and wild grapes. The contents of each jar smelled like the fruit the yeast was harvested from. Though delicious, the sourdough breads I made didn’t taste or smell like the fruit the yeast came from.

Last week I decided to try capturing wee beasties from a highbush cranberry and some lovely fall raspberries. I picked a handful of fruit and put each fruit (separately) into a jar with ¼ cup of flour. I sealed each jar with a lid, shook it, and let the jar sit overnight. I actually shook the jars several more times through the evening.

In the morning I removed the fruit. For the jar with the cranberries, I combined equal parts inoculated flour and water (¼ cup flour and ¼ cup water) in a mason jar and stirred. I then put an elastic on the outside of the jar, marking the level of the sourdough starter. The raspberries were a little more complicated – they had softened and been partly absorbed by the flour. I separated the inoculated flour from the raspberries and placed this flour in a mason jar. I placed the mushy floured raspberries in the water I was going to add to my raspberry “captured” yeasty flour, stirred to remove as much of the flour as I could, then removed the wet raspberry pulp and added the pink water to the inoculated flour in the jar.

Sourdough bread just starting it’s rise over the wood stove

I have read that you should feed your beasties twice daily, but I’ve found they will put up with a once daily feeding. This morning I fed my beasties 3 tablespoons flour and water, just under the recommended ¼ cup feeding. After feeding, I adjust the rubber band at the new level. This lets me see how high they rise. Slowing their growth can be done through reducing the feed or placing them in the refrigerator. And, of course, baking with them is a good way to use up excess starter.

Last year our granddaughter created a starter from our raspberries. At the end of their visit her mother packaged a portion of the starter for their trip home. Wanting to make sure our granddaughter had a successful experience, I looked into preserving the remaining starter. All I had to do was dehydrate it! Since then, I have shared this dehydrated starter with a friend and he successfully revived it.

I have a starter from cherries that has been going for more than two years now. I truly don’t need three sourdough starters. The whole reason to start the highbush cranberry and raspberry starters was to share with the Nelson community.

To get a Nelson “grown” sourdough starter, contact me, to arrange a pick up date, bring a jar and you’ll leave with your own “wee beasties”!

The rise after the first feeding

The rise 24 hours after the first feeding. Note the size of the spaces from the active yeast.

New loaves of sourdough bread

Delicious sourdough bread