First things first. Be patient and grow your starter. The full process should take no more than 4 days to achieve a mature starter.
Add one whole packet of Hudson Oven Starter Blend to a bowl. Add no more than 1/4 cup of very warm water and stir with one finger until toothpaste consistency. Cover with Cling Wrap or Saran Wrap and leave in a warm place. (75 deg F or warmer). The warmer the environment the quicker it will mature. Leave it to become active for up to 48 hours. Once is smells a little like over-ripe fruit, add another 1/4 cup of warm water and stir to dissolve water. Then add 40 grams of flour and stir in once more. This will double the mass of the dough and introduce new nutrients for your starter to enjoy. Leave in a warm place for 12-24 hours and watch for it to develop gas and begin to rise. After this sequence your starter should be active. Remember, a warm environment is essential.
To maintain and feed this starter for the rest of its life (and yours) discard half of the mass and replenish it with equal parts water (warm) and flour by weight. This is a feeding. We feed our starter once a day when not in use but read on to see how you can increase the time between feedings to fit your lifestyle.
Your starter, like most other living things in the natural world, is very resilient (more than you might think). So don't give up on it! Think of it like a house plant, or a goldfish. It requires at minimum, a small amount of care on a somewhat regimented and regular basis.
That being said, it is up to you to determine how it will be cared for. Your starter will end up reflecting the style of care you provide it with. The package you receive is Hudson Oven starter but its community of yeast and bacteria will change rapidly to reflect what your household and its microbial environment contains. We are surrounded by yeast and bacteria whether you like it or not :)
A starter should be fed with equal parts flour and water by weight whenever executing a feeding. We recommend 50 grams flour and 50 grams of warm water each time. More on this below.
A meticulously calculated daily feeding of exact amounts of flour and water is a scientifically certain way to keep your starter alive. This is excellent if you wish to fine tune your bread making process to target specific levels of acidity and therefore sourness. It's also essential for general reliability and consistency when baking. If you wish to produce the same loaf or loaves each week then this style of maintenance is for you. To start, simply discard one half of the total volume of the active starter. Then replace that same half volume with a new blend of a flour of your choice and water as a 50/50 slurry. Stir into your remaining original starter and it will be content until the next feeding. The next feeding should occur no sooner than twelve and no later than forty-eight hours if you seek structured consistency in your starter.
Starter regimens are nice. They offer consistency, reliability and certainty. But then again, it is said that sourdough is a science AND an art. It is this reality that makes sourdough bread making so unique. The result is often a reflection of the baker's mentality of and approach to the process.
There is no cause for concern if your starter is tough to maintain at first. There is a period of time necessary to learn how to execute the processes that at first seem daunting but will eventually be second nature. Once comfort is established around the completion of maintenance tasks then the true impression of your process will materialize in your starter. There is something to be said about loosening the reigns on your starter. Let it develop without a rigid schedule often. Feed it less frequently and let it slow down. We cant all run at a sprints pace forever. You can always dial it back into a consistent place whenever the time feels right. A common mistake is to feed your starter too often out of frustration or lack of patience. It is very important to let the yeast and bacteria multiply in a warm environment between feedings.
The more you experiment with feeding your starter by feel and limit a structured feeding schedule, the more you will develop an understanding for how it responds to varied maintenance styles. The better you understand the rise and fall of your starter, the more intuitive the act of bread making will feel once you embark on that process.
If neglected for a week or longer it will develop a rancid scent as well as some "funk" on top. Funk being unintended bacteria that feed on the waste products of yeast and lactobacilli, the main active organisms in a healthy starter. This funk can be poured off the surface and all but a tablespoon of the cleanest looking slurry of flour and water can be diluted in a half cup of water and fed with a few new tablespoons of fresh flour. A normal feeding schedule should be followed for two to three more feedings every twelve to twenty four hours and your starter will be as you used to know it. Aromatic, supple and responsive.
Once a starter is mature and going through a consistent rise/fall/feed sequence you can then think about making bread with it. Additionally, a mature starter that has been freshly fed can be refrigerated to extend the rise/fall cycle for up to 48 hours. You can also reduce the amount of water used in your feeding resulting in a thicker starter which will slow starter fermentation as well. Combine these techniques to achieve up to 96 hours of hands off time.
An even blend of scientific and artistic approaches will result in a great starter that offers calculable reliability and spontaneity that is certain to occasionally humble its manager as a relationship is developed.
Remember your starter like most other living organisms, wants to stay alive. It is very hard to "lose" or "kill" a starter if there is even a hint of care baulked it's way. The bottom line is that your starter should be fed at least once every seventy-two hours if left at room temperature to stay minimally present.
Here is a link to our Just Add water Sourdough Starter making mix.