Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In the Kitchen with Herman

No, I haven't found a new friend named Herman, or adopted a doggie pal for Charlie. Herman is my sourdough starter. I'm not sure where or when or why a sourdough starter was given a name like Herman, but my family has had Herman in our kitchens for 15 or 20 years.

My mother was given a cup of Herman sourdough starter many years ago when we all lived in Iowa. I think it was a recipe that being passed around at the same time as my mother and her lady friends were passing around cups of "friendship fruit". Both Herman and "friendship fruit" were easy to share with friends because both recipes involved creating a master batch of ingredients and then adding to it and using part of it regularly.

With the "friendship fruit", I'm only aware of two ways that mother used it--as ice cream topping and in a friendship cake recipe. I don't have the recipe for friendship fruit on hand right now, but I remember that it contained many cups of canned fruit and sugar, and that it fermented a bit over time. What I do know more about at this point is Herman, because Herman had staying power in our family. We didn't just use it up or give it away after a while. We made a permanent place for Herman in our homes.

The primary ingredients of the master starter mix are flour, milk, and sugar. You mix these ingredients together and give them time to ferment and develop a yeast culture. You store it in the refrigerator, stir it regularly, and add to it periodically as needed. Technically, the instructions call for daily stirring, feeding every five days, and baking every 10 days, but we've found success in a much less demanding schedule. I stir it when I think of doing it, feed it when I need more of it, and use it when I'm ready to bake. And when a long period goes by and I don't have the time or interest in baking with it, I freeze a cup of it for future use. Herman doesn't seem to mind the freezer (I call this his hibernation period), and he readily revives again after thawing and feeding him.

Anyway, I could probably go on for quite a while about Herman, but it might be better to just give you the basic master starter recipe and then a quick recipe for the best pancakes we've ever had, which happen to use Herman as a base. They're light and fluffy, and don't be scared about the fact that they have a sourdough base even if you don't think you like sourdough in general. When we've served these for company, they never guess that they're sourdough pancakes until I tell them. This is a relatively sweet sourdough starter, and Herman just makes them very light and tender. I think they're delicious even without anything on them, though we love using real maple syrup at our house. In the near future, I plan to post my recipe for whole wheat bread and coffee cake, both made with Herman.

Master "Herman" Sourdough Starter
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar

Heat milk to 110-115 degrees. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix the flour and sugar, and then gradually add the heated milk. Cover the bowl with a towel and set in a warm place (70-80 degrees) to "sour". Stir this mixture often over the next two or three days. It will start to ferment and a colony of yeast will develop. When the mixture has a bubbly froth, it's ready to use.

For long-term storage, transfer your starter (Herman) to a plastic bowl with a lid that you can leave slightly ajar so that it can continue to breathe. To feed him, add the same ingredients and the same proportions as listed above for beginning the starter. Or, if you need more or less Herman, I've had success adding half of each ingredient for a smaller batch, and I would imagine that you could add double each ingredient for a larger batch. It all depends on how much you need for your baking plans.


USAincognito said...

lol. Got a kick out of the dough/yeast's name being Herman! ;)

Karen said...

Me, too! I suppose it's kind of corny, but I think it's fun to talk about how it's time to put Herman to the freezer...or wake him up again when it's time to thaw him out and use him again. :-)

TulipGirl said...

The "friendship fruit" probably wasn't rumtopf, but you could use rumtopf for that:

We have a jar of rumtopf in the fridge, and whatever fruit is in season I add a bit of, along with extra sugar and rum.

And thanks for the Herman Pancake recipe! That's what I googled and then found your blog.

Karen said...

Thank you, Tulipgirl! I'm going to visit your blog and read more about your rumtopf. That sounds really interesting! I think my mother's friendship fruit had mainly canned fruit in it, but I can imagine that fresh fruit would make it even more of a treat! God's blessings!

Lydia LeRoy-Williams said...

My family got Herman the year I was born, 1977, and he's been a family staple for, obviously, as long as I can remember. Just recently my parents passed Herman's offspring to me. SO now he's in my fridge and I hope to one day pass along to my daughter. My Herman is just a sourdough starter now, not for sweet bread. I'm googled "Herman Sourdough Starter" and found your blog, I was just about to write about my experiences with Herman on my blog.


Karen said...

Thank you, Lydia, for the comment. My Herman is in hibernation again, in the freezer, until I'm ready to do that type of baking the next time. I've been so thankful that it can be frozen and then revived at later dates. I'm going to go visit your blog to read your Herman article now, too. Thanks for visiting my site. :-)

HeatherB said...

Was very happy to find that Herman still exists out in the world today. My mom used him when i was growing up!we got the recipe to make him from the Battle Creek (Michigan) Enquirer in a little booklet that came out Nov 13 1983. Sadly the book is no more but i got scanned copies of both Herman and the Friendship Fruit Recipe.Will be happy to Share it if anyone is interested in it still...

Karen said...

Thank you, Heather. I just checked out your blog and saw that you have the recipes posted there. I bookmarked those pages for future reference. Nice to meet another Herman fan. :-)

Sarah said...

I'm getting ready to bake with Herman for the first time, and was very relieved to find your blog and see the "stir when I think of it" comment! I've been having mother's guilt over not being a dedicated daily stirrer!

Karen said...

I had to smile about your comment, Sarah. I, too, had "mother's guilt" about not stirring daily at first. But it really doesn't seem to alter the final product as long as you do occasionally--like maybe a time or two a week at least. It's really much more forgiving than the "official" instructions would indicate. Have fun baking! :-)