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If you have ever had a yen to create a sourdough starter of your own, Fall is the time of year to do it. There is a lot of wild yeast flying about in the late summer and early fall, feeding on the fruits of the harvest just as we are.
If you can get your hands on some wild grapes, away from the roadside so they don't harbor any noxious residues from traffic exhaust, pick a cup or so and bring them home. Put a couple of cups of King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour in a glass or ceramic bowl. (King Arthur is perfect for this venture since it also doesn't harbor any noxious chemicals -- those that are used for bleaching and bromating purposes). Bury the grapes in the flour, being careful to keep them intact, since it's the wild yeast which lives on their skins that you're trying to transfer to the flour.
Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap to keep other yeast out, and let these strange bedfellows stay together overnight. The following morning, carefully remove the grapes and stir in 2 cups of lukewarm water, which should also be chemical-free. If your water supply is chlorinated, get some from a spring or brook you know is pure, or the same in a jug from your local grocery store. Stir the water into the flour and an optional tablespoon of sugar or pasteurized honey (raw honey has little organisms of its own which might work at cross purposes). If you are so inclined and have some around, you can use water in which you boiled potatoes, since that provides an exceptionally nutritious broth. You can also substitute some King Arthur Traditional Whole Wheat Flour for some of the all-purpose if you want.
Blend your brew together thoroughly, cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth and place it where there are no drafts. If the surface begins to look dry after awhile, give the mixture a stir. It should begin to "work" in the first day or two if it's going to at all. Let it continue working for 3 or 4 days, giving it a stir every day or so. When it has developed a yeasty, sour aroma, put it in a clean jar with a lid, refrigerate it until you're ready to use it and congratulate yourself on your successful capture. If the mixture begins to mold or develop a peculiar color or odor instead of the "clean, sour aroma," give a sigh, throw it out and, if you're a patient, persistent sort, start again with some grapes from another source.
Once your starter is safely in the refrigerator, it becomes relatively dormant and can survive quite a long time between feedings.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. II, No. 9, September 1991 issue.