Sourdough Starter: An Old Family Treasure

You might say Robert Jordan is the keeper of the flame by preserving the family’s sourdough starter for so many years.

As Jordan explains in the video, his mother, Jean Rentz Jordan, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 88, had eaten pancakes as a child from this same sourdough starter. Though he is not able to verify the claim, it was family lore that the starter came from his grandmother during the Alaska Gold Rush of 1898.

This sourdough starter consists of flour and whole milk. The sour flavor is a result of the yeast and a certain type of bacteria (Lactobacillus) present in the air (or in the flour itself) that remain in balance with each other. Too great a population of yeast, and the bacteria are not able to reproduce, without which, there can be no sourdough style dough.

For those who want to begin their own starter from scratch, here are several online recipes:

Does anyone have a sourdough starter recipe that they use that contains whole milk?

Below is the basic instructions for maintaining the sourdough starter, and creating the batter to make fresh pancake mix:

Sourdough Pancakes Instructions
Courtesy of Robert Jordan

To make sourdough pancakes from the starter: the evening before use (remove starter from the refrigerator), mix the initial starter sample with equal volumes of milk and flour to the desired volume plus about one cup. In the morning it will have risen – remove one cup and return it to the fridge; that is the base starter for next time. Depending upon the season, it may take a few days at room temperature before it rises. Then refrigerate until the night before it is to be used.

To the remaining batter, add one egg, 1 tsp of baking soda, salt as desired, and a tablespoon of oil or bacon grease. If it is too thick, add some milk. Use this batter stock to make your sourdough pancakes.

General Tips for Working with Living Starter:

  • The more days you let the prepared batter stand at room temperature, the more sour the flavor that will result.
  • If you leave the starter in the fridge for a long time without use, a grayish water will collect at the top and it may appear to be dead. It is probably OK. Just mix up a batch and see (you may have to wait a couple of days for it to recover). To keep the starter alive over extended periods of time without being used, it’s necessary to add fresh flour and milk to the starter every 6-8 weeks so that the yeast and bacteria will have food (sugars) to eat.
  • It is best if kept in the dark, so don’t use a clear container in the fridge. If exposed to light I have found it may form spores (gets fuzzy). It still seems to work OK – just scrape the fuzz off and use the starter.


To make sourdough bread from the starter: the same leftover pancake batter may be used, just add flour to the desired thickening point. You may also add some baker’s yeast to speed up the rise.

Editor’s note: this post has been modified to add additional information.


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