Let’s talk about yeast

First, you may have noticed a change in the menu at the top. I now have a separate tab for sourdough. If you’re looking for information on making a sourdough starter, or trying some of the recipes we’ve been using, that’s where you’ll find quick links to all the relevant posts.

There’s a reason I’ve done this. πŸ˜€

We have long been the sort of family to keep a pantry stocked of basics and do a lot of “from scratch” cooking. Part of it was because that’s what we wanted to do, but there was many a time when finances left us with little choice.

Since we’ve been living on my husband’s long term disability income, which comes in once a month, we’ve also been in the practice of stocking up once a month, long before we found ourselves living out in the boonies.

Which means that many of the things people are being called to do, with the Wuhan virus lockdowns, are things we were already doing. Now, however, there are more people doing it, which means we’re suddenly having a harder time finding things that have never been an issue before.

Like yeast.

Now, to be honest, I did have troubles finding the type of yeast I wanted. It was far easier to find super quick acting or bread machine yeast, than the slower acting yeasts I preferred. But that’s just me being picky. πŸ˜€ Right now, there just isn’t any type of yeast to be found, even as supplies of flour and sugar have been restocked in many places; at least in the cities.

I have given up Facebook for Lent, which is probably an extra blessing this year, as I’m missing out on all the social media crazy that I’m sure is going around right now. I still use their messenger, as I can use it on my phone without logging into Facebook, so I sometimes get people sending me information that way, but beyond that, I’m pretty much out of the social media loop.

With so many people suddenly stuck at home and having to learn how to cook and bake, plenty have turned to social media to discuss and share. Since I’ve mentioned to a few friends and family members about my inability to find yeast, I had someone message me with something they found.

It was instructions on how to “make your own yeast.”

Now, right off the bat, I knew things were off. That’s not how yeast works. You don’t “make” yeast. Yeast is a living thing, and wild yeast floats in the air around us all the time. Now, it could have meant instructions on how to make something like commercial yeast, but that’s not what was in the photo.

What it really was, was instructions on how to make a sourdough starter.

Which was great. As a recipe, it could have made a very nice sourdough.

The reason I say “could” instead of “would” is because how it turns out depends on the wild yeast that finds a home in the mixture and starts colonizing it. It’s entirely possible for a nasty strain to take hold, and instead of getting a nice, bubbly mixture that smells wonderful, you get something that’s black or red or otherwise nasty, and it needs to be thrown out. That’s why even some sourdough starter recipes include adding a bit of commercial yeast. This is to ensure that a strain of yeast that is known to be safe is established.

There are lots of reasons people so readily adopted commercial yeast.

Even if it was colonized by a lovely strain of yeast, sourdough starter is not something you can substitute 2:1 with commercial yeast. It doesn’t work that way. Starter is a living thing that needs to be tended and fed and stored properly if it’s not going to be used very often. It also behaves differently than commercial yeast, typically taking much longer to rise (unless your recipe calls for something like baking soda which triggers a chemical reaction… do feel free to visit the sourdough tab to learn more). That slow rise is one of the attractions of sourdough baking, as it allows all sorts of lovely flavours to develop.

Oh, and the Pinterest worthy photo of a mason jar full to the top with lovely, bubbly sourdough starter?

Don’t do it. It may not be as aesthetically pleasing, but this is what it should look like.


A starter needs lots of room to bubble and expand. Put it in a little mason jar, and you’re going to have a mess to clean up before long! Also, if you’re going to be doing any serious level of baking with sourdough, you’re going to need more than a tiny jar will give you. We keep ours in a giant plastic bowl (no metal!). Some of our recipes call for 4 cups of starter, so we keep a fairly large amount of starter bubbling away.

Having yeast is really handy. That’s why, even though we have a sourdough starter we’ve managed to keep alive for a year and a half now, I still like to have commercial yeast.

I recently spoke to my mother about not being able to find yeast. She told me how, in her younger years, no one used yeast. She’s shared memories of her childhood before, so I already knew that part. When bread baking, her mother would set aside a piece of the dough for the next baking day. I knew that part, too, as it was a common technique at the time, and my dad has also shared memories of his family doing the same. Her mother would bury the set aside piece of dough into the flour.

Wait… I didn’t know that part!

In fact, this was a method I’d never heard of before. My grandmother would bury the piece of dough in the flour. A dry crust would form on the outside, and it would need to be soaked before it could be used in the next batch of bread.

I think I might have to try that!

So what’s my point about all this?

Well, for those who are new to baking and wondering what to do about not having commercial yeast, you’ll be fine. You can make a sourdough starter. Just know that this is something that takes time to get established. Or you can make flatbread, with no leavening at all. There are options. The trick will be to sift through the misinformation that’s out there. It’s not as hard as some make it out to be, but it’s not as “easy” as others make it out to be, either.

I supposed it comes down to, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t!

Even if we’re talking about yeast.

The Re-Farmer

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