1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter from Carl Griffith

Clearly this sat awhile before I reconstituted the sourdough starter.
November 14, 2011 it came.  I had read about a sourdough starter and sent off for it.  It arrived and has sat in the envelope on my counter at the end against the tile until I resurrected it per Carl's directions 3 evenings ago.  He has a brochure available on line telling the historic nature of the starter and how to use it.  is the link to the information as Carl passed away in late 2000 and a group of his loving friends continue his tradition of giving away at no charge with directions for reviving and using the starter at no charge.

Summary of the History:

It is given is that it started west in 1847 from Missouri.  Presumably with the family of Dr. John Savage's daughter, one of Carl's great grandmothers.  It came west and settled with them near Salem, Or.  Doc Savage's daughter met and married Carl's great grandfather on the trail and they had 10 children.  The tale and the starter have been passed parent to child since then.  Carl learned to use the starter in a basque sheep camp when he was 10 when they were setting up a homestead on the Steens Mountains in southeastern Oregon.  The bread was baked in dutch ovens on an open campfire.  People at that time had no commercial starter for their bread so it has been exposed to may wild yeasts for our enjoyment.

A more complete history can be found given at the link given above.

Through the years I have had several sourdough starters and enjoyed them very much.  All had been purchased commercially.  I am truly excited about this as when I reconstituted it as directed it has the most pleasing sour aroma of any I have ever used.  Perhaps because of all of the natural wild yeast?  At any rate it came together perfectly as directed.

The starter came dried and in a small zip lock bag.  To reactivate you dissolve the dried starter in 3/4 cup  warm water (90 degrees) and add 3/4 cup white bread flour and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a glass or plastic container, NOT METAL.  Also you want to be sure to use a filtered water of some sort without the chemicals of treated tap water.

Place the bowl, covered with a damp towel in a warm place (About 85 degrees F. like the oven with the light or pilot light on.) for up to 48 hours.  It will get bubbly from the fermentation because it has come to life!

Next mix 1 cup warm (95 degree F) water, add 1 cup of flour, and 1 tablespoon of dried potatoes or use potato water instead of the dry potato flakes. NOTE:  I made Brian mashed potatoes last night for supper so I poured the water off of the potatoes and into a glass measuring cup and left it to cool and used for this step.  Again cover and let sit in a warm place until bubbly again.  (I left covered sitting on the counter until this morning.)

Next I stirred well and stored in a one quart mason jar in the refrigerator until I am ready to use.  It Is natural to become somewhat lumpy and for a liquid to form on top.

I love the prospect of it's history, I love what I have read of Carl Griffith, and the starter has pleased me very much!  Stay tuned for sourdough bread and recipes!


Larry Williams said...

After reading the article, I must say that I never knew of Carl Griffith and his time on Steens Mountain.Not disputing this though! Born and raised in Harney county, Home of the Steens, I've hunted,fished and worked in the Steens off and on all my life. I have family of Basque heritage that still own property high on the mountain and still work up there! That being said , I choose to offer up some sentiments about the Steens and the sourdough that I use almost daily at home and outdoors! I was given a starter in 1981 from an old sourdough buckaroo named Jack Anderson! Jack at that time began tutoring me on the fine art of sourdough. He claimed that his starter had never been broken for (at that time 1981) for over 125 years. I have used this starter since that time and never broke it!I remains still unbroken! Jack buccarooed all over the Steens,Catlow valley and Harney county. Jack has been gone many,many years, but his sourdough legacy still lives on in SE Oregon. Please might I mention that never ever has any commercial yeast, potato water, sugar or the like of any food product been added to this starter. That would ruin the attitude of any sourdough, and could easily lead to food poisonimg! Sourdough was generated and was never meant to have any milk,or eggs added to any recipe! they didn't always have these things available on cattle drives,mining camps and wagon trains. Now having said that, baking soda,lard,sugar and baking powder and salt have always been used with starters to make pancakes,bread, and biscuits, throught its history. Yes in later times and when available eggs, commercial yeast and milk have been used and with great success, but still takes away from the sourdough ball kept in the flour sack or crock of any old sourdough! Who knows, Jacks starter may have come from Carl, but this old sourdough cant abide by any potato water, commercial yeast sugar or the such to reconstitute or feed any starter.Starter should only be fed equal portions of flour and water ONLY. Sourdough and cast iron are still a staple in many camps on Steens Mountain!

Tanya Michaud said...

Hi, I got Carl's Oregon Trail starter, and it was bubbly at first. Then after a few days there was not much rising after 12 hours, and there were 3 distinct layers... 2/3 of the bottom part was not very bubbly, a thin layer of hooch, and then 1/3 of the dough was very bubbly. Am I doing something wrong? I thought it wasn't mature, so I would stir everything, remove some, then refeed equal amounts of flour and water (some sugar in the beginning). My first 2 attempts on my own failed, so trying Carl's.. Just not getting a big rise, as I understand should be? Please help, anybody!

Robin Ewing said...

could be your water is too alkaline, which yeast will not thrive in. Or has chlorine in it if using tap water. I’ve had to resort to using spring water from a bottle. My yeast has expensive taste and does very well with Evian. Not so well with my tap water. It could also be it’s not getting enough air and suffocating. I put a loose plastic wrap over the top of the jar. Or even that you’re over feeding it. How warm/cold is the space where you keep the starter? All of these are factors and you need to keep experimenting untilyou get the right combination. It’s very hard to kill yeast completely so don’t throw it away. It can take a few weeks to get a strong active starter.

D.W. Read said...


I highly recommend Debra Wink's article, "The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2" for The Bread Bakers Guild of America. She provides a method for creating a starter from natural yeast that focuses on providing the correct acidity levels of acidity at various stages.

A copy of the article is at
You can skip to the end where the instructions are. The rest of the article, as well as Part 1 of the article, is about how she came up with this method, approaching the problem as a microbiologist.