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Back from the holidays with an over ripe sourdough starter?

Some of you may have come back from your long, relaxing summer holidays to find your sourdough in a bit of a state. But whatever you do – please do not ditch the sourdough! No matter how smelly or disgusting it may look to you it can still be saved from the brink. Honestly. These things become family heirlooms and could potentially last forever. Nor, critically, do they “go off” and become a lethal poison. They simply get riper.

My sourdough “Freya” looked the worse for wear when we came back last week – as if she’d decided to go out on a bender and was now suffering from a fiendish hang-over. She even smelt of alcohol. That’s what happens when you leave grain to ferment too long. It turns a little bit alcoholic. Freya, was indeed more than a bit miffy – both literally and figuratively. She was showing signs of neglect and was not happy we’d failed to feed her fresh carbs over the course of two weeks.

Before we left G. had given Freya a good feed of rye and water and then placed her in the fridge. By the time we got back the wild yeasts were long dead and the wild LABs were in full swing secreting lactic acid and slowly, over time, beginning to ripen the sourdough not unlike an aged French brie. Mature, smelly and very, very ripe.

The critical thing to understand about a ripened sourdough is that you can still, if you so desire, bake a bread with this over fermented piece of sourdough. You will not be poisoned. Your bread won’t rise very much either since most of the wild yeasts will have died. Further, it will, of course, taste like the smell. Pungent. Gourmands may love it – but probably not the family.

What your sourdough, categorically , has not done is “gone off” or turned into a lethal weapon of mass destruction.

Sourdoughs, like all properly fermented food stuffs, do not “go off”. They just get riper. So ripe that pretty much everyone, (other than a dedicated foodie seeking an extreme food thrill), will not want to eat it. So if you want to continue baking bread, pizzas and pancakes with a stable sourdough here’s how to save your over-ripe starter.

How to recalibrate a sourdough starter.

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Hooch on the top of an over-ripe sourdough starter

Some over-ripe sourdoughs will have developed a brown liquid on the top. This is often referred to as “hooch”. Hard to believe but some people actually drink it since it is supposedly full of “goodness”. I don’t. It looks revolting, smells revolting and probably is revolting. That all said my kids find buttermilk revolting and I drink it. (Each to their own!). If you do have hooch simply stir it back in to your starter. Alternatively you can keep it and use it, rather like whey as an inoculant to kick-start a vegetable fermentation.

Next …

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One cup of over-ripe starter being added to fresh flour and water

Add one cup of the over-ripe sourdough starter into a clean bowl and two cups of fresh rye or whole wheat and two cups of water and leave to rest for around 2-3 hours by which time your starter will be right as rain and ready to use in sourdough baking.

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Over-ripe sourdough starter with a thick crust on top.

Other’s may find that their sourdough has developed a hard crust on the top. If so scrape the top layer of crust off and discard. Underneath you’ll find the liquid starter. Proceed as above.

Two happier looking sourdough starters ready to go.

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