Three minutes a day.
That’s all it takes to maintain a sourdough starter. Such a small investment — and yet so hard to accomplish. During busy months, you can even pop your starter in the fridge for weeks at a time, removing it only for quick feedings.
Starters are significantly harder to build than they are to maintain. It takes me a week to build an active culture; two weeks to build something with reliable strength and complex flavor. And yet — knowing all of this — I invariably neglect my starter during the busy seasons of life.
I don’t even leave it in the refrigerator. I leave it sitting out on the counter, or on top of the refrigerator, where it’s warm. Day by day, as I tell myself that I’ll feed it “tomorrow,” the once-vital culture sinks into a sludgy morass and clear alcohol builds over a black film.
It’s disgusting. It’s depressing. It’s avoidable. During the first weeks of neglect, I could rip off the bandaid at any point and nurse the neglected culture back to health. But I don’t. I tend to ignore it — until it’s too late.
I killed my last starter by neglect in January and February. The busyness of the holidays distracted me from confronting the problem that darkened daily in a bowl on top of the refrigerator.
But on Ash Wednesday, I faced reality. I scraped the inert sludge into the trash can, washed the bowl in hot soap and water and burned a candle to freshen the air (in anticipation of my wife’s protests). The bowl, empty and gleaming, was ready to be filled.
Three days ago, I mixed rye flour, water and a teaspoon of honey, and I waited. Twice a day, I’ve discarded half the mixture and refreshed it with more flour and water. This morning, I saw the first signs of activity — wild yeast, latent in the flour and in my kitchen, have begun to do their silent work.
As Lent lengthens toward Easter, the earthiest of ingredients — wheat and water — are poised for new life. So am I.