combining sourdough cultures

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combining sourdough cultures

Postby Wissahickon on Sat Aug 01, 2015 10:57 am

I've been maintaining three separate sourdough cultures -- San Francisco, Ischia, and Yukon -- that I obtained from Ed Wood at Sourdoughs International in Idaho. But I can't bake as much as I'd like to these days, and find that maintaining three cultures has gotten to be too much. I'm thinking of combining all three separate leavens into one culture, to cut down on maintenance and also reduce the amount of flour I'm using to maintain the three cultures. I've read Sandor's comments on this subject in Art of Fermentation, but still hesitate to dump all three into one jar. I notice that all three cultures tend to behave a little differently, and smell and taste a little differently too -- or so I think, since it's hard to control for such things. So I'm wondering if anyone has some thoughts on the value -- or not -- of maintaining sourdough "purity". I'm also thinking of using my hands to mix the cultures, whatever I do, since I read in Daniel wing's book that clean hands are the main source of beneficial bacteria in sourdough cultures in any case -- that, and what's in the local air and the flour that's used. One more thing -- I want to add that I've valued the Ischia culture especially highly, since it originated in southern Italy, and may have been the strain used to make the original pizzas. That part of the world is where my maternal grandparents were from, and so I imagine that when I bake with the Ischia culture, I'm working with the same or very similar yeasts that my grandmother may have worked with when baking bread or pizza in her mountain village in Italy, which was not far from Naples and not far from where the Ischia culture was isolated and propagated. I don't absolutely believe in this connection, but it tickles my fancy, and as readers of this post would know, working with living cultures as I do (not only sourdough, but water and milk kefir, heirloom yogurt, rejuvelac, etc.) can be inspiring, imaginatively. Anyway, I'd appreciate having your thoughts. Thanks!
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Re: combining sourdough cultures

Postby Christopher Weeks on Mon Aug 03, 2015 8:07 am

My understanding of what is currently believed by people who know more than I, is that a strain taken from its homeland will change over a fairly short time to become the strain native to the new locale no matter what you do. So if you maintain those three distinct cultures, they will converge over a year or whatever on the same point, which is the strain most reasonably called your house culture. And the same thing will happen if you mix them. So, in the short term, I think you might get interesting results, but in the long term, I don't think it matters.

You could refrigerate or freeze each of the three to cut down on the flour waste and still keep them for later or occasional use.
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Re: combining sourdough cultures

Postby Wissahickon on Sun Aug 30, 2015 9:23 am

Many thanks, Christopher, for this response, which confirms my own feeling (or suspicion) that the integrity of a given sourdough culture is ultimately rooted in place of maintenance and practice rather than place of origin, wherever that may be. I think that Sandor feels the same way. This belief in the ongoing integrity of the original culture is something that the well meaning people who sell sourdough cultures may claim -- not entirely for self-serving purposes - but is probably not well founded, as you suggest. So then, my immediate plan is to run a test by mixing a portion of each of the three cultures together and see what happens, while also preserving the original three cultures separately for now, until I'm confident that the blended culture is working and is producing good tasting loaves. I'll let you know how it turns out. I also want to say that I've been traveling quite a bit lately, so this response to your post is a bit tardy. Thanks again!
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Re: combining sourdough cultures

Postby Christopher Weeks on Mon Aug 31, 2015 7:33 am

I wrote "no matter what you do" but I didn't mean that literally. I think there are lab-grade protocols and facilities which can certainly keep a strain pure-breeding. I just don't think it's reasonable to think that normal people in a house can do that.

So, if you like a particular Finish or San Francisco culture, it might make sense to buy a culture of that type and use it for three months before buying a new sample of it to start again. I just don't think you can keep it going forever.
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