Seasonal Affected Starter?


A whimsical thought.  Are the little critters in your starter seasonally affected? I don’t mean, does the temperature affect them, because it obviously does. Raise the temperature your starter’s development speeds up, colder temperatures retard.

Less than a fortnight ago we were hit by viciously cold weather, sub-zero temperatures made worse by snow and searingly strong winds. Our pipes froze, no water, no central heating, just a six feet radius of heat round the wood-burner with logs dwindling.

Outside spring went on hold. Most birds vanished and the remainder fluffed themselves up and scratched pathetically for food.

A few days later the intense cold was gone, the snow was gone, new green growth could be seen in the garden, the birds were singing, courting and mating for Wales. Up the road I’m sure the little lambs were frolicking.

The day before the freeze I was running a bread course. I like wet 100% rye doughs, one, because they make fabulous breads but also because you can slip them into a busy work schedule. You can mix the dough on the morning of bake day; there’s no work, you just stir it with your hands, rest it for 30-60 minutes, whack it in tins, give it maybe 3-3½ hours and bake. As they’re rising in tins you can watch their progress and judge the timing accordingly. The downside is there’s no gluten to speak of to retain the gasses produced by the fermentation so the dough rises until it collapses under its own weight.

So during the course I’m saying to the student, do you see any movement yet? Don’t worry, it will move – just don’t expect anything spectacular. Once it peeps over the top of the tins we’ll have them in the oven.

Just over a week later, a bake for customers. Like I said the seriously cold weather has gone, spring is stirring again but overnight we have a good three inches of snow.

I would have expected the doughs that had been retarded overnight in the fridge to be sluggish but they were pretty lively – a little on the perky side. But the rye …

I have an oven capacity of ten loaves and baking takes 50 minutes, so on bake day I shape ten loaves to prove every hour and they get about 3½ hours to prove. The ryes went in the tins about three hours before their allotted time for the oven. After the first hour I was trying to avoid noticing that the cloth and plastic sheet covering the tins was rising like a mummy’s shroud. I ignored it for another half hour, stripped off the cloth and it was obvious that the dough was close to collapse. Some serious juggling between ovens and a bit of queue jumping saved the day and – well, it keeps life interesting.

But, my point is, does the wild-life in my starter recognise that Spring is here, over and above just changes in temperature, and go a bit berserk along with the birds and the bees and the little lambs?

Maybe Gareth will know. Surely they must have covered it in the Advanced Sourdough Course (School of Artisan Food no less).

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