At some point in the last couple of years - I forget when, exactly - I stopped buying yeast for baking. I'd tried sourdough once before, when a kind friend gave me a starter, but I hadn't managed to keep it alive. This was discouraging and also made me feel guilty, which didn't help. I'd read about getting a sourdough starter going, and it involved a lot of discarding half the mixture. With my hatred of waste, this didn't appeal.
Instead, I just tried to keep my domesticated yeast alive from one baking day to the next. I put a few tablespoonfuls of bread dough in a jar, added more water then extra flour from time to time, and that was about it. Over time, I got used to my starter. With experience, I learnt when it needed feeding and how to keep it healthy. One thing I discovered was that it benefits from adding veg water instead of plain water. I give it the cooking water (cooled) from potatoes and carrots.
Another thing I found worth changing was the process I use to make bread. I'd been following the no-knead method, whereby the dough is made the night before baking and left to develop overnight, then folded in on itself a couple of times before going in the baking tin. This meant adding some of the starter when I made the dough, and topping up the starter at that point with flour and water. Over the course of a few months, I found the starter tended to get less vigorous until eventually I gave up and started a new one.
The change was to make a
sponge, or very wet dough, the night before, using all of the starter and only half of the flour, then return some of the wet dough to the jar the following morning, before adding more flour and salt to the dough for bread. This the requires kneading, so it's a bit more work than the other method, but the starter seems to stay healthier.
This has been fine, but I quite like the idea of using wild yeast. Opinions vary on where this comes from; some say it's in the air and others say it's in the flour. I use cheap white flour and I very much doubt it has anything of any value in it. As for what's in the air in my kitchen - well, I think I'd be much more likely to get mould than useful yeast.
Then I read an article that told me an easy way of getting wild yeast: It's on cabbage leaves. I have some cabbages in my garden that didn't form heads, so weren't much use as vegetables. It would be nice if I could harvest something from them. I picked a couple of leaves that had clearly visible white yeast on the surface and put them in a small quantity (I didn't want to waste a lot of flour on a failed experiment) of wallpaper-paste strength flour and water.
After a couple of days, I saw the first signs of tiny bubbles. At this point, I removed the cabbage leaves, scraping as much gloop off them as I could. The mixture did smell a bit cabbagey, but hopefully that would dilute out soon enough. For a couple more days I monitored and fed the mixture a bit, until there were definitely bubbles and a certain sourness to the smell. At this point I'd have to take some out to make space in the jar for more feeding.
With the first extraction of starter, I made a few wholemeal rolls, adding enough flour to make dough but no extra water. I didn't expect much but with a long rising time (about four hours, I think), they came out OK. The cabbagey smell wasn't really detectable but even so, I made the first loaf wholemeal, too, as I thought that would cover any undesirable flavours better than white. I held off making a decision on this new starter until I'd made a white loaf, which I did this morning.
It certainly looks the part, and it tastes just like bread made with the domesticated yeast. No interesting sourdough flavours, just bread. The starters look pretty similar, too: Both are frothy beige gloop.
If anything, the wild yeast is more vigorous than the domesticated, but that might just be because I'm giving it warmer conditions to encourage it to develop more quickly. I'd kind of hoped for a more complex flavour from the wild yeast, but maybe that will develop with time. Even if it's just the same as the domesticated, I'm going to switch over to using the wild, just because I like the idea of having foraged my bread yeast.