22 September 2013

Feral Apple Sourdough

When I first read about wild-caught yeast sourdoughs, I was immediately attracted to the idea. But, I lack the discipline to remember to bring a bowl of flour with me to leave open somewhere nearby when foraging for apples or other fruit. Then one day, an imaginary friend on the internet casually mentioned remembering her grandmother starting sourdough by burying grapes in flour and leaving them overnight.  I sat bolt upright, recognizing a do-able plan.


By do-able, I mean the the theory was good.  I'm a practiced bread-baker, but I've never done a sourdough.  There are piles of dusty apples on the counter and the fridge is full of lethargic sourdough starters with their complicated histories written on the container in sharpie.  Fefe Noir is thinking about taking up curling since that seems to be all the rejected loaves are good for.   The good news:  I figured it out.

Difficult?  Oh, yes.  But don't worry, I made all the mistakes already and it will be a breeze when you do it... 

Feral Apple Sourdough Bread

adapted from Wild Yeast's 47% Rye Bread

Feral apples can be found on abandoned properties, near
trails, and pretty much anywhere Johnny Appleseed went.
600 g feral apple sourdough starter (see below)
1 tbsp birch syrup or fancy molasses
340 g unbleached all purpose flour
350 g Red Fife flour
3/4 tbsp salt
400 g water (~ 2-1/2 cups), tap-hot

In a large mixing bowl, combine sourdough starter with birch syrup.  Let rest for a few minutes while you weigh your flours.  Stir flours, salt and about 2/3rds of the water into the sourdough mixture.  Add water as needed to make the dough workable, but not overly wet.

Stir in one direction to build up gluten.  When the dough becomes elastic and difficult to stir, change your technique a bit to a stir and lift motion.  Long strands of gluten will become visible, pulling from the sides of the bowl as you stir.  Your arm will be getting sore but you're almost done.  When the dough pulls away from the bowl in one lump as you lift and long sheets of dough form from the spoon, stop stirring. 

Turn dough out into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and let rest for 1 hour.

If, like I was, you are not accustomed to making sourdough bread, you will find the dough seems rather sticky. It is rather sticky. If you try to make it not sticky, you may end up with a loaf that doesn't rise during baking, and will do a lovely job as a doorstop but be impossible to saw through much less delicately slice for tea sandwiches (ask me how I know).

Flour your hands.  Keep a bowl with some flour handy for dusting your hands as needed.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in two.  Stretch each half into a long rectangle, fold the end thirds over the middle, turn over, cover and let rest 30 minutes.

If you will be using a loaf pan, lightly oil the pan and dust with flour.  If you will be making a free-form loaf, I highly recommend baking it on parchment paper on a pizza stone.  If you don't have a pizza stone, you can preheat a heavy baking sheet.  Or buy a pizza stone, it's well worth it.

Lightly deflate each rectangle.  Turn over and roll into a loaf from the short side.  Place in baking pan and slash the top of the loaf to allow expansion during baking.  If you are making a free form loaf, make sure the edges are well tucked, the seam is well sealed and on the bottom of the loaf.  You will also want to proof the loaf on parchment paper, and raise the sides of the parchment (literally, raise them up, pin them together above the loaf with clothespins or paper clips).  Let rest 1 hour.  Do not be alarmed if the dough does not change in size perceptibly, but the surface should look taut.

Oh, yes.  I made sourdough bread from feral apples.
While the loaves are proofing, pre-heat the oven (with the pizza stone if using) to 475F.  Arrange the oven shelves for the bread to bake in the center with a rack below for a steaming pan.  A few minutes before the bread is done proofing, put a shallow pan with a couple cups of water in it on the lower shelf.  Turn the oven down to 450F and bake the loaves for 12 minutes.  Carefully remove the steaming pan from the oven and continue to cook the loaves for an additional 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.


Feral Apple Sourdough Starter

What you will need:
  • 6 feral apples (or crabapples or other small apples which have not been subject to pesticides, have not been washed and have not  been waxed - whichever you choose, use locally picked apples, the whole point is to make a bread unique to the place you live)
  • Red Fife wheat flour (or other whole grain wheat flour)
  • unbleached all-purpose flour
  • tap water, declorinated
  • patience
The amount of flour needed in total depends on how long your starter takes to mature, and how long you keep it. 

It's important to use unbleached flour and declorinated water to minimize possibility of yeast death, particularly in the early stages of making the starter.  True, I haven't verified the scientific evidence regarding yeast survival in bleached white flour, but why would you use bleached flour anyway?  And why take the risk?  If your tap water is chlorinated, it's easy to declorinate by leaving some in an open container for a few hours allowing the chlorine to evaporate.

Colony Building

basic technique for harvesting yeast followed King Arthur Flour's Grape Sourdough Starter


Day 1

Place the 6 feral apples in a large-ish non-reactive bowl that you won't need to use for other purposes for a while.  Bury them in 150 g of Red Fife and 150 g unbleached white flour.  Cover with a linen tea towel and place the bowl out of reach of children and pets.  Fill a glass jar or other suitable container with water; leave uncovered to dechlorinate.

Day 2

Under the surface liquid, the starter is foamy and bubbling.
Time to start feeding.
Remove apples from flour and tap as much flour as you can from the apples back into the bowl.  Stir 500 ml of dechlorinated water into the flour.  Cover with the tea towel.

Day 3-5

At least once a day, have a peek at your starter, pour off any brownish liquid from the surface, then give it a stir.  Once the starter is foamy and full of bubbles, and begins to form bubbles again immediately after stirring, you can start feeding it (this might happen right away, you don't need to wait for day 5 to move on to feeding)


Stir to combine well; you want an nice smooth batter.  

Day 1-3

If there is liquid on the surface of the starter, pour it off.  On days 1 and 2, add 50 g of each flour and 100 g of dechlorinated water and stir in.  Increase to 75 g of each flour and 150 g water on day 3.  Cover.

Day 4

Figuring out maturity can be difficult; it might look mature
but not smell quite right.  What the hell, make some bread.
The worst possible outcome is having to pitch it out.
Stir the starter and split in half; this should give you two lots of about 600 g starter.  If your starter is not yet mature, feed each starter beginning at Feeding Day 1 again.  You will know when your starter is mature; if you don't know, it isn't mature.  When it is mature, it looks full and foamy and just smells right.  Worst case scenario, you make a batch of bread resembling a cow patty but with the consistency of a hockey puck (ask me how I know).  Don't sweat it.  Keep feeding your starter and wait for it to be ready.

If your starter is mature, use one half of the split to make a batch of bread (see above) and feed only the other half starting at Day 1 again.  As you can see, this schedule will result in making bread every 4 days.  If this is too much for you, store your starter in the refrigerator and feed it every few days instead of every day.


The lore around wild-caught yeast is that there is a lot of regional variation in airborne yeast, thus each region can produce a sourdough bread with a flavour that is really specific to the area.  I love the idea of that.  That the nuances in my feral apple sourdough could only occur here; yours could only occur where you are.  Some magic that is, capturing the essence of a place and baking it in a loaf of bread.

Curator of YeastSpotting and Wild Yeast blogger says this lore is poppycock.  Which might well be true, which is probably true.  But I want my magic Newfoundland feral apple sourdough with it's lovely sourdough tang and undertones of something like apple cider vinegar and empty grain silos (is that my imagination? does it matter?)... I want that magic to be real.  And maybe the bacteria or the yeast on those apples add characteristics to the grain-yeast sourdough that is common across space.  In any case I'll avoid the peer-reviewed research because I don't want to know.  Plus, hey, I made sourdough bread for the first time*.

*By which I mean hours of website and discussion board research, at least three starters and several unsuccessful attempts before finding the combination of starter and baking method that worked in a repeatable way.  Hopefully this will save you some time, effort and frustration.


  1. This is an excellent tutorial, cheers for sharing :)

    1. Thanks! If you were closer I'd share some starter with you. I keep finding "experiments" throughout the house.

  2. I am so so happy to find your excellent blog! Even happier that you are a fellow Newfoundland foodie. Love how you write about your foraging adventures and now I wish I could go on one myself! And your recipes are equally exciting!
    I have tried making sour dough and have failed so many times that it's shameful to talk about. A blogger from Montreal gave me some which got lost in airline baggage and then I couldn't revive it. I think sour dough and me aren't meant to be.

    1. Thanks so much for your nice comments... and for poking around the blog! I was similarly happy when I found yours.

      You know, if you want to give sourdough another try, you are probably close enough I could bring some of my excess starter to you...

  3. I think I've browsed your entire blog! Loved it. There is a lot to learn, especially now when I see any plants I'm wondering if you'd eat it! Haha....
    Yes, I'd love to get some sour dough starter and give it another try again. That would be lovely and you are very kind. Let me know when you are in town and I'll go meet you. Thank you for thinking of it.

    1. caribougrrl works in town. Currently she is experimenting with two starters and when they are mature you we will let you know. There is already too much bread in the freezer which I keep pointing out is berry space. Prepare to have your house taken over with bread.


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