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  • Writer's pictureRogene "Jeannie" McPherson, Country Notebook

Meet Herman

Updated: Jul 4

Country Notebook

By Rogene "Jeannie" McPherson

And, just who is this Herman character? Let me give you a few clues.

  • He’s is alive but sometimes he gets a little smelly so I put him in the refrigerator. 

  • He lives with me as a friend. In fact, I use him in one of the ingredients for Friendship Bread.  

  • He likes being beat up every day but other than that, he’s not much trouble. 

  • He is the magic in baking sour-tasting bread-like food products.

Give up?  For the uninformed, likely those who do not make homemade bread, even in the once popular breadmaker machines, you may not know about a key ingredient in making yeast breads. Herman, for whatever reason, was given this name as a sourdough bread starter. The chatter as to its beginning is that prospectors or trappers may have been preparing a flour and water mixture and left it behind when someone came into the camp shouting about finding a vein of gold or colony of beavers.  When they returned, the flour and water mixture was bubbling. Maybe one of the successful prospectors was a man named Herman. I find some satisfaction by dividing the word, her-man. 

What these early frontiersmen found was that this mixture could be used over and over without spoiling just by adding additional flour and water.  What they likely did not know was that yeast spores are all around us in the air and that was what made the mixture continue to grow.  Modern science has determined which spores are most suitable and we can find dry manufactured yeast in grocery stores to successfully begin the sourdough starter.  

The first day of “starting” the sourdough requires at least three ingredients, flour, water, and store-bought yeast. Some recipes include sugar and/or potato flakes as it gives the yeast another food source. After mixing, it’s kept in a warm place for 10 to 24 hours and then put in the refrigerator. I’ve found a few starter recipes suggesting one can use the starter at this point, but most recommend a longer process over 10 days adding more flour, sugar and milk. Yeast is not added because it continues to grow on its own. Hot liquids and baking kills the yeast.  Thank goodness, as the thought of the yeast continuing to grow in the stomach would lessen the delightful experience of eating fresh, homemade bread.

Sourdough starters are generally begun at least 10 days before the cook intends to make bread products such as a loaf of bread, biscuits, cornbread, pancakes, waffles, cakes, cookies, cinnamon rolls and what is often referred to as Amish Friendship Bread. A yeast spore is so small it takes thousands to grow and multiply so that our taste buds enjoy the flavor of homemade bread products.

Every recipe I reviewed and I have lots, suggest that once a sourdough starter has successfully begun, dip out at least one cup and give to a friend so that he or she may add flour and water and keep the starter growing. It would be possible to keep the starter going for years or until tired of sourdough foods. The price of yeast has increased significantly thus using a starter saves on the grocery bill.

I suppose there was a time when I would have been an MVB (most valuable baker). One of my sons verified this a few years back when he called me specifically to tell me his colleagues were raving about a bakery in North Kansas City.

"I told them my Mom’s rolls are even better than the bakery ones," he told me.

Sometimes your kids show their love in ways we don’t expect. That praise was even better than fresh bread. 

Rogene “Jeannie” McPherson, from the Centerville area, is a regular contributor to the Linn County Journal. She recently published a book about her experiences entitled Posts from the Country, Adventures in Rural Living. It is available online in both virtual and printed editions. Copies are on the shelves at all Linn County libraries.

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