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Jim Greenfield uses one of his sourdough starters to make pizza dough (credit: Theo Greenfield).

With all of us quarantined indoors, stuck with our spouses, roommates, children and other stragglers, the popularity of at-home projects seems to have exploded (or at least that is what our social media feeds tell us). Gardening, deep cleaning and water coloring all seems to be favored choices.

But the king of them all? The one hobby every millennial and their mother seem to have adopted? The rising star (pun intended)? Sourdough bread and it’s illusive mother, the sourdough starter. For most, this is new territory, like adopting a pet or having a kid (okay, maybe it’s not that serious). It needs to be fed, burped, cleaned. It all looks so complicated, and has us all asking, how exactly does one sourdough?

Well we reached out to at-home sourdough connoisseur and Greenport native Jim Greenfield to answer all of our rising questions about this complicated topic.

NF: What is a sourdough starter?

JG: Sourdough starter is fermented dough that can be used in place of commercially packaged yeast as the leaven for bread making. Sourdough bakers maintain at least one “mother” starter to draw from when they start a batch of bread.

How do I start one?

Yeast is everywhere. It is in the air, in fruits, in the flours we use for bread making. The simplest way to start your own is to combine equal parts by weight of flour and water into a small container, cover it and leave on the counter — 25 grams of each is more than adequate. I use small mason jars with the lid (not tight).

The water should be filtered or bottled spring water since chlorinated water will retard development. All Purpose flour is fine for this, but you might include some whole wheat or rye flour, which seems to supercharge the process. Discard and replace half twice per day. You will know when the process has taken off when you see bubbles forming in the mixture and there is a smell of ferment.

How do I take care of my sourdough starter?

Maintenance is simply a matter of feeding your starter flour and water. Your starter will be relatively “mature” after a few weeks to a month with two feedings per day, but you can start bread making when the starter looks active and healthy. At this point, you can put it to sleep in the fridge and feed it weekly or less. If you forget it for a while, you might find some separation of alcohol on top. Pour that off, discard at least half of the mother starter, and recharge it for a few days or until it looks healthy again with the two feedings process you used to start. 

What is the difference between sourdough bread and regular bread?

To me, that’s like asking what is the difference between Welch’s grape juice and a fine North Fork red wine? Flavor, texture, “crumb,” character, complexity, crust and so forth are the hallmarks of a fine sourdough bread. Regular bread is something you put stuff on or in between. Sourdough bread is manna from heaven!

How do I turn my sourdough starter into bread?

Sourdough bread does take more time, patience, study and practice than making commercial yeast bread. But that challenge is what makes it so rewarding. I follow several blogs, Facebook Groups, YouTubers and websites. I also have a couple books I use for reference. I just returned to baking in the past month after a seven-year hiatus, but my favorite site from when I started back then,, is still alive and well.

What can I do with the discard?

Throw away the discard in the first week of starting a mother. At that point, there is a battle going on between the good and bad yeasts. After that, put your discard in a pint or larger covered container in the fridge. You can use discard for pancakes, waffles, biscuits and the best pizza dough ever. There are plenty of recipes online for “sourdough discard.”

Is having a sourdough starter as good as having a pet?

Absolutely, which is why I usually have two or three mother starters! Each has its own character, and they will amply reward you if you feed and care for them as you would any of your other house pets.

What is the necessary equipment?

Most kitchens have the majority of the basic tools you will require, but as you become more advanced and committed to bread baking, you may acquire the optional ones. You need measuring cups and spoons, of course, but a decent metric digital scale is far superior to relying on those alone. Bowls, tea/dish towels, parchment paper and a good work surface are essential. Beyond that, you might invest in a baking stone, a pizza peel, cooling racks. A mixer with a dough attachment is often used by home bakers, although I generally prefer to work the dough with my bare (clean) hands.

What other things can I make with sourdough?

 There is no end to what you can come up with and find to make with your starter beyond the infinite types of breads. Pizza may be at the top of the list, but pastas and sweet breads like cupcakes and muffins are all candidates.

Best sourdough toast toppers?

In our house, Labneh with olive oil and zaatar followed by unsalted butter are the two favorites. Pâté, chevre and mozzarella with fresh garden tomato and basil in the summer and pesto (especially cilantro from neighbor Heather) are all great!