I've had sourdough bread many, many times in the past and I never really liked it. Until I had some good, homemade sourdough bread that a colleague brought into work a while back. I thought at that point that it might be fun to try making sometime, but I had no interest in the process with making a sourdough starter... it sounded too complicated. So I never tried it.
Recently, my SIL, Mary, gave it a try and said it wasn't too hard at all. So I decided to give it a try afterall. And guess what? Mary was right! It wasn't hard or complicated at all! You just have to switch to a clean, sterile bowl and add equal parts flour and water each day for a week. Just make sure you use non-plastic and non-metallic utensils and bowls. Then you can use it to make bread, muffins, pancakes, crepes, crackers, and so much more! A sourdough starter can last for generations if you keep it going, feeding it once a week.
So here's what I did... I basically followed the same method my SIL did... with one variation, noted below, based on the recipe and method in Nourishing Traditions.
2 sterilized jars or bowls (not metal)
A non metallic spoon
A coffee filter or thin fabric (I used cheesecloth folded in half)
Whole wheat flour, spelt, rye (I used dark rye, which I've read will produce the best starter)
Water (if you have city water you must boil and let cool or aerate with a blender to rid it of chlorine)
The ratio of water to flour is 1:1 when starting a new sourdough starter. (I used 1 cup flour and 1 cup water to get started, then used only 1/2 cup of each for each feeding. I decided to do this based on the recipe in Nourishing Traditions, which starts with 2 cups and proceeds with 1 cup each day thereafter... but I didn't want to make that large of a starter.)
Place a 1:1 ratio of flour and water into a clean and sterilized jar (or bowl) and stir well. Cover with the filter or thin towel and set in an open area so it can start collecting natural yeast. (It is also recommended that you keep away from other lacto-fermenting or sprouting things.)
Transfer the starter to a clean jar/bowl and feed your new pet another 1:1 ratio of flour and water in the same amount you used for day one (I used half the amount based on Nourishing Traditions' recipe). So if you used 1/2 cup for each, you'll use 1/2 cup again. Stir well, cover, and set back out.
Days Three Through Six
Again, each day you'll feed your starter a 1:1 ratio of flour and water (in a clean jar/bowl). It will start to get bubbly (and will start to smell like wine) and you'll also notice it separate a bit and get a watery layer. Don't worry, this is totally normal.
Your starter should now have gone through the bubbly stage and smell somewhat 'sour'. Transfer to a clean jar and feed it one more time.
At this point it is ready to use! You can now do one of 2 things.
1. Test out some new recipes! Just make sure you feed it again before you put it in the fridge to store.
2. Cover and pop it right in the fridge for use later.
Care and Feeding of your Starter:
Upkeep on a starter is very simple. If you do not use your starter for one week, transfer to a new jar or bowl, feed it a 1:1 ratio of flour and water, and set it back in the fridge. OR, after you use it for a recipe, feed it the same 1:1 ratio and let it sit out again for just a couple hours before storing in the fridge.
If your starter starts getting a bit to thin, go ahead and pour out the watery layer that settles at the top.