Subject: 34. Can I freeze or dry my starter?
With regard to freezing, I have done this for years: I put a cup of starter in the freezer and in six months or so thaw and feed it then refreeze. It has always worked so I have not understood the frequently expressed concern about freezing. I think people should always freeze part of their starter for safety's sake. Of course, they can always get some more from me by sending me a SASE.
(Ed. note -- be sure your starter can handle freezing like Carl's before you rely on this method of preservation.See "http://www.nyx.net/~dgreenw/sourdoughfaqs.html#sources" if you would like to obtain Carl's starter)
I only dry the starter when I know I am running out, which may be every week or two. I prepare a batch of starter for distribution by combining one tablespoon of stock starter, 1/3 cup water, and enough flour to get waffle batter consistency. I activate this mixture at room temperature (about 70 degrees F.) until I can see small bubbles in the body of the starter ( not frothing or hooch formation.) (The stock starter culture is kept in the refrigerator. It is fed and activated every two weeks or so, i.e. whenever I think about it or need to use it.)
I pour the activated mixture into three 10-inch diameter plastic picnic dishes to a depth of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. It dries for several days at room temperature. The dry starter does not stick to the dishes. It dries on the top first, but the bottom is then exposed with a knife. Otherwise drying would be too slow. One could use regular ceramic or metal dishes if you put a layer of plastic sheeting over the dishes so the wet starter didn't stick to the dish. Waxed paper should work as well. When it is dry and brittle I break it up and grind it in a blender. It seems to work OK. I wonder if other people always activate their starters before they dry them.
I leave the dried starter in the freezer for several weeks, long enough to fill the requests that I get in the mail. Never had a report of my starter failing to reactivate. (I test each batch before it goes out in the mail by reactivating a portion of it to make sure it is OK.) Well, that is just the way I do it. Cooking is not a mathematical science. When I learned to cook some seventy years ago in a cattle trail chuck wagon and ranch house there were no quantities or temperatures in recipes - just did it feel good or look right, or taste good, and did the cowhands like it, was all there was. This can be checked with many of the recipes from that time. We used ones printed in the 1800s.
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