The next three days, according to Silverton, required little on my part other than maintaining the culture between a comfortable 70 – 75 degrees and checking in on it from time to time. Naturally I obsessed over it, convinced that the key to producing a good loaf of bread was by peering anxiously into the container every half hour. Throughout the course of a single day, the Cambro traveled around my house, going from fireplace mantel to kitchen countertop, and then from office bookshelf to bedroom nightstand, as I tried to stay ahead of the fluctuating indoor temperature.
By Day 2, a healthy layer of bubbles had accumulated at the top, which meant two things: One, the yeast had moved successfully into the Cambro condo . Two, not only had they unpacked their bags, they had already helped themselves to the refrigerator, too. They were literally eating the sugars present in the flour and belching out alcohol and carbon dioxide, which explained the bubbles at the top. If I looked long enough, I could see individual bubbles emerging from the floury depths, slowly expanding at the surface, and then popping with a delicate click. My yeast was alive and happily fermenting!
The next day, however, gone was the sweet, baby-fresh aroma of grape juice. In its place was a rank odor that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. It was powerful. It made my nose wrinkle. It reminded me of…my mind searched for the right words…
“Your uncle’s feet,” my husband said, yanking his face clear of the container. **
“Really?” I said. “I was thinking Roquefort, or Camembert, or maybe a really ripe Brie.” I offered him a second whiff.
He lurched away from the container and pawed at the air in front of his face. “It reeks!”
I stuck my nose into the depths of the Cambro once more and inhaled deeply. He was right. It reeked.
I was beginning to get a little worried. Silverton suggested the yeast culture should smell fruity or pleasantly yeasty. Nowhere did she mention the feet of uncles. I could only hope that by refreshing the culture with a long-awaited first feeding, an event not scheduled until the next day, my yeasty friends would climb out of whatever funk they’d fallen into.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
The feeding worked, thank god. After stirring in another 1:1 mixture of flour and water, it was as if a waiter had breezed through and whisked away the beastly cheese plate that had been lurking in my kitchen over the past day, replacing it with a curious platter of what smelled like beer, ripened grapes, and a little dipping bowl of vinegar. The vinegary odor pricked at the insides of my nose. I did a little victory dance. It confirmed the presence of acetic acid, a byproduct of Lactobacillus bacteria, which coexists with Saccharomyces exiguus yeast. Without this particular bacteria, a loaf of sourdough wouldn’t be, well, sour. In other words, my wild yeast starter was getting there.
All was right again in this little corner of the bread-making world. Until the next morning.
** Note: There wasn’t really an uncle. I made him up to protect the dignity of the real character.
Find out what happens next in Stalking the Wild Yeast, Part 3.