Chat Leftovers: Stalking the wild yeast

June 12, 2013

Good morning, all. Stand by for today’s assignments:

1. Ride Amtrak? Then you’ll be happy to know that they’ve been working on improving their food offerings, going so far as to hire nationally known chefs (including Washington’s own Michel Richard) to develop recipes. Lori Aratani has the story. 2. Like to read? Becky Krystal introduces you to Runcible Spoon, a local food zine with attitude aplenty. 3. Got herbs? Specifically, lots of herbs? Bonnie Benwick has polled local chefs and others for tips about what to do with this season’s herbal bounty. 4. Need advice, or just want to amuse yourself during lunch? Tune in to today’s Free Range chat for an hour of culinary talk and freewheeling fun with the Food team. It starts at noon, so be there. You can also leave a question early, then check in later to see if we answered it. Unanswered questions, by the way, don’t always die. Sometimes they show up in this very spot — like this leftover from a previous chat:

I’m interested in trying to bake bread with wild yeast. How do I get the yeast, though, without also attracting insects and tree pollen?

Good news: Insects and pollen shouldn’t be a problem for you, because attracting yeast is an inside job.

Yup. Just because it’s called “wild” yeast doesn’t mean you get it from the wild. It’s hanging out right there in the kitchen. All you have to do is coax it into taking up residence in a bowl of flour and water that you leave out on the counter.

It’s fun, actually, parenting your own colony of yeast cells. And it’s kind of cool to make use of the free yeast in the air rather than buy it from the supermarket. Makes you feel like a pioneer. I think getting your own starter going is something every cook should do once, just for the fun of it.

The basic drill is to combine the flour and water and then just let it sit for 12 hours to see what happens. If you see it start to bubble and foam, you’re good. If not, wait another 12. Then, you just have to feed it and keep it alive.

To be truthful, I’m making it sound a little simpler than it really is. When you deal with a living organism, anything can happen. So let me steer you to an extremely helpful blog called Wild Yeast where you can find answers to many of your breadmaking questions. The place to start is right here, where the yeast-nurturing process is explained in careful detail. There are, of course, plenty of online resources that can help you get the job done, but that’s a fine place to begin.

Good luck, and may your yeast cells be fruitful and multiply.

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