"We are NOT in the same boat together...but we are all facing the same storm."
I hope that we can all keep each other afloat. Let's lend a hand where we can and keep the storm from getting bigger. And now.. On with the post.
My hope with this slightly unusual blog post is to show you how to find, capture and harvest yeast so that you can make your own starter. This specific post is NOT however, about making a sourdough starter. Instead it is a primer for my next post where I will be showing you how to make a starter from yeast you harvest yourself. But we have to have a yeast first and this post is about creating a "yeast water".
For this blog post and the one that will follow, I have decided to bring my world of yeast cultivation and tenkara together. They are similar in some ways in that they both require a certain amount of mindfulness and patience.
I am going to keep this as simple as possible so that you can have easy success and hopefully you will be inspired to continue this equally meditative practice going long after the pandemic has passed. (Sooner than later, we all hope.) There are so many references on line that I could list but frankly, I want you to start as simple as you can and if you are inspired, dig deeper.
Gathering yeast from the wild
Yeasts are all around us they surround us in our lives. They are around us, on us and even inside us. But not all yeasts are desirable. We want to look at capturing and cultivating some specific wild yeasts. Ones that are very good in baking. This whole process can be a strangely satisfying activity. Much like catching a fish on fly you personally tied, so is the process of gathering and nurturing a yeast culture into a usable medium we can then bake with.
Choose a “host yeast ingredient”
This is the creative and fun part. Yeast waters are made from things you can forage in the wild like juniper berries, new pine needle tips, rose-hips, dandelions, etc. If it is an edible plant with a certain amount of naturally occurring sugars, you can bet that it has yeast growing on it. You don’t have to go into the wild though. You can also make yeast waters with store-bought fruits, berries, and other produce including culinary herbs. I always keep the straggling remnants of blueberries we buy that are left in the container after making sourdough blueberry pancakes. (recipe next blog post)
The main consideration is how will the flavors of that yeast host add to the flavors of the bread you are making. Dandelion bread is amazing. Blueberry yeast water bread has a small hint of blueberry flavor and even color. Let your palate and imagination be your guide. Let's get started.
Yeast water cultivation
Once you have picked your yeast host it is time to get to work. You are going to need a few simple things to get started.
You will need:
Put a ¼ cup to ½ Cup of your host yeast bearing ingredient(s) into the jar, add the non-chlorinated, room temperature water filling the jar almost to the top. Finally add a few tablespoons of sugar or honey. Some yeast hosts are naturally sweet so decide if you need to even add sugar at all. Finally, put a lid on the jar tightly and shake it up and put it somewhere slightly warm and out of the way and out of direct sunlight. I find that the top of my refrigerator is an excellent place that I won't forget about the continued steps. .
Food, moisture and warmth the "rod, a line and fly" of yeast cultivation...
The yeast thrives with food, moisture, and warmth. I generally put my yeast water on top of my refrigerator. It is important not to put your yeast water in a place that is too warm (above 90 F / 32 C) or that is in direct sunlight. If you go too warm the yeast will die.
After the first 24 hours, you may not see much change other than maybe color of the water. Carefully open the lid of the jar to release any carbon dioxide gas that may have built up in the jar. CO2 is a bi-product of the yeast doing what it does naturally. In essence it eats the sugars and expels CO2 and converts the sugars to alcohol. Feel free to shake up the yeast water and leave it be. You can repeat this process a couple of times a day if you want.
Day three or four:
As the yeast does it's work, your yeast water will start to become more carbonated. The host ingredients will rise and and fall and will eventually float to the top. Each day you continue to shake the jar a bit, you give the yeast water a little oxygen by agitation. As the days pass though you will understand that you must be careful as pressure will build inside your jar. Once you see and hear the effervescent bubbles when you open the jar to “burp” it, you will know it is alive and ready to use. At this point you can remove the host ingredients and discard them. The yeast will continue to do it's job.
Day five or six:
At this point I suggest you give your yeast water a taste. You should get hints of the flavors from host. It has added it's own oils, flavors and sugars that are now infused in the yeast water. If by now you do not have an effervescent yeast water you might have to start all over. Something went wrong either in your yeast source or in temperature.
Make sure your jar is clean, the water is de-chlorinated and that you are using fresh clean host ingredients.
A yeast water is basically a "wild soda". The natural carbonation is pleasant and refreshing to drink. This is a fun project to do with your kids too. My favorites are dandelion, pine, juniper or blueberry. I've also made a really great cherry. Just make a big batch in a large gallon jar. You can bottle the yeast water and keep it in your refrigerator for about a week if it even lasts that long.
If you aren’t going to use your yeast water within a week or so, you are going to want to put it into a refrigerator. Cooling it down will slow it down and keep it from completely fermenting too far into an alcohol level of 4 to 5%. This level of alcohol will start to kill off the yeast. You can always add sugar to your yeast water to keep the yeasts fed and happy.
This takes very little time to do. Go pick some dandelions off your lawn (the ones not christened by weed killer or passing dogs of course) give them a rinse and put them in a jar with some clear water and a bit of sugar. in a few days you will have a yeast water concoction that I will be teaching you how to make bread with on my next blog post on making bread and sourdough starter with yeast water. I will be fervently writing that post over the next few days, but I do need to get my current loaf of bread out of the oven. My first loaf of dandelion for the season.