Updated: Oct 7, 2020
First things first. Keep your starter alive.
Your starter, like most other living things in the natural world, is very resilient. 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.
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. Its 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.
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.
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.
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 tender as a relationship is developed.
Remember your starter like most other living organisms, wants to stay alive. It is very hard to "lose" a starter if there is even a hint of care baulked its way. The bottom line is that your starter should be fed at least once every seventy-two hours to stay present.
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C.F.H @ T.H.O