Wild Yeast From Castro Valley Grapes Makes Fantastic Sourdough Starter & Pretzels

Just in time for Oktoberfest, the Castro Valley grape harvest's wild yeast makes fantastic sourdough starter to use in Rachel's Soft Sourdough Pretzel recipe.

Fall and Oktoberfest are upon us.  Grapes are being harvested all around California, and yes, even in Castro Valley, which boasts a magnificent climate conducive to grape growing.  It so happens that my muscatel and concord grape vines were flush with berries this year, but my family had become graped-out well before the vines were finished producing.  So I began researching alternative recipes and ways to utilize grapes. 

One of the most interesting uses I found is to "harvest" the local, wild yeast which naturally collects on the skin of untreated grapes to make uber-local sourdough starter.  While this application certainly wouldn't use a fraction of my grapes, which were becoming overripe and falling on the ground, as a chef, it certainly piqued my interest enough to give it a shot. I set about following instructions a friend had given me for making the local, wild/organic grape yeast sourdough starter below. 

Wild Grape Yeast Sourdough Starter

1 cup wild or organic, unwashed, untreated, local grapes    

2 cups of Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

2 cups filtered, unchlorinated, chemical-free water

1 tablespoon raw, local honey (optional)

Toss the grapes with the flour in a medium glass or ceramic bowl, being careful to keep them intact.  The wild yeast lives on the grape skins and you're trying to transfer the colony to the flour.  Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap to keep other unwanted wild yeast out, and allow the bowl to sit undisturbed, overnight.

The following morning, carefully stir in 2 cups of lukewarm water, which should be filtered, unchlorinated and chemical-free.  Optionally, you can stir in a tablespoon of raw, local (if possible) honey to help feed the yeast.  Blend the honey in to the mixture gently but thoroughly, cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth and place it where there are no drafts for a few (4-6) hours. 

Gently remove the grapes from the mixture with a slotted spoon and give the mixture another stir. You should see the yeast starting to go to "work" in the first day or two if it's going to happen at all.

Let it continue working (creating gas bubbles) for 3 more days, giving it a stir every day or so. When it has developed a yeasty, sour aroma, put it in a clean jar with a lid, refrigerate it.  You now have your own super-local sourdough starter.

Once your starter is safely in the refrigerator, it becomes relatively dormant and can survive quite a long time between feedings. 

With October just around the corner, Oktoberfest also looms near.  Please find my recipe for Local Wild Yeast Soft Sourdough Pretzels below.

Rachel's Wild Castro Valley Grape Yeast Sourdough Pretzels

1-1/2 cups proofed (at least 36 hour) wild yeast sour dough starter
1 cup hot water, filtered and unchlorinated
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
5-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

coarse salt

1. Let all ingredients and utensils come to room temperature
2. Add the 2 tablespoons butter, the 3 tablespoons, sugar, and the 2 tsp salt to the cup of hot water. Cool to lukewarm.
3. Put the proofed batter into a warm bowl. Add the cooled water mixture.
4. Add 4 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition.
5. Turn out onto a floured board and knead in approximately 1-1/2 cups more of the flour. The dough will be very stiff.
6. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turn over, and cover. Let set for 2 hours to proof.
7. On a board which has been scraped clean of flour break of pieces of the dough about the size of a large egg. Roll each piece out with the palm of your hands until it is about 18 inches long and about 1/2 inch in diameter. Twist the ends and pull them back to the rest of the loop and form the shape of a pretzel about 4 to 5 inches in size. Place aside on lightly floured surface and let rise a few minutes.
8. Heat oven to 475°f / 245°c. In a saucepan, measure 2 tablespoons baking soda to each cup of water. Put enough water to fill the saucepan at least 3 inches high. Bring soda and water mixture to a light boil and set heat to simmer. Make sure the baking soda is well dissolved.
9. Place pretzels one at a time in water/baking soda mixture for 10 seconds on each side or until the pretzel dough is light yellow in colour. Remove the pretzel from boiling water and place onto a salted cookie sheet.
10. Salt the top of pretzels with course ground sea salt. Place cookie sheet with pretzels into the oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until pretzel is golden brown. Enjoy while warm.

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