Natural Yeast Emergency Prep: The Pioneer Way

So you don’t have your natural yeast emergency prep plan … yet. It may sound silly, but it’s a question I get all the time: “If I’m keeping my natural yeast starter in the refrigerator, what happens when I lose power in an emergency?”My answer is simple. Don’t panic.That bubbly wheat-goo in your jar is tougher than you are.

Natural Yeast, (aka Sourdough) was originally (for 6,000+ years) kept at room temperature and fed and used daily. With modern hectic schedules that take so many of us outside the home, a refrigerator method like the one I teach is more manageable. In a power outage situation, some aspects of your starter-keeping will change, while others will not. Here is some food for thought to prepare for an occasion where power is not available either in the short or long-term.

Learn More: Natural Yeast Natural Yeast Emergency Prep| via

Natural Yeast Emergency Prep: Short-Term Outages (1 day-2 weeks)

These little blips on the radar are usually due to downed power lines caused by bad weather or idiots on wheels. They typically last less than 24 hours, and rarely more than 2 weeks. Here are a few tips to make this unexpected adventure manageable with your starter, taking into account that life as you know it will go on as usual (unlike in the next scenario), and you may not have time for extra starter care.

24-hour outage:

  •  Just keep your starter in the fridge with your other perishables. Peek at it only when you have to grab something out for cooking/eating and see if it is getting more active and needing to be fed. Your starter can easily last 24 hours at a slightly warmer temperature without much work or extra attention involved,

2 days-2 weeks

About now you’re probably out back, barbecuing all the defrosted meat from the freezer and wishing you had invested in that generator. Put that on your to-do list.  In the meantime, it’s decision-making time for your starter.

  • Winter Weather outage: In this case you may be bunking up with friends or family in another neighborhood who still have heat. You can cart it along with you (you know I would!) or feed it well before leaving and put it in the garage or cold storage to stay cold. If you leave it behind, put a note out on your counter or cupboard reminding you to bring it in again when the power comes on.
  • Summer Weather outage: Warm weather without refrigeration means higher activity for your starter, which means daily or twice-daily feedings. No time for that? Use most of your starter to bake bread, but save 1/4 cup  and make some starter flakes to reconstitute when the power is back on. If you DO have time for multiple daily feedings, then skip down to the next section for feeding tips.

 Learn More: How to Make Starter Flakes and check out my article in the Winter 2014 edition of The Prepper Review ejournal

The Preparedness Review

Natural Yeast Emergency Prep: Long-Term Outages

Just imagine: The unthinkable happens, and a natural/economic/military/technological/pandemic disaster has shut down life as we know it. There is no power (or very little of it) and just enough fuel for basic heat and food needs. Stores are a thing of the past.

You are on. your. own.

Hopefully, you have been wise enough to store enough food to keep you on your feet during an emergency until you can make the switch to living sustainably. Now, I can’t tell you EVERYTHING you would need in this situation (for that info, check out Food Storage Moms, Prepared-Housewives, Graywolf Survival, and Your Own Home Store), but I can tell you what you will need to bake daily bread for your family.

To bake  1 bare-basics loaf each day for 3 months, (values are rounded up to give a small margin for error):

  1. Hard Red or Hard White Wheat:  180 lbs.
  2. Salt: 1.5 lbs.
  3. Water: 11 gallons.

*Multiply values by 4 to calculate a year’s supply

Remember, these quantities are for bread alone, not including other salt and water needs.

In this scenario, life takes on a different routine where everything revolves around food and survival. Before, “life” involved work, school, soccer, piano lessons, shopping and entertainment, but in a crisis that circle of interaction is instantly reduced to your home and family with the fire/hearth at the center. You will work to eat and eat to live just the way your ancestors did not many generations back. Twice daily feedings will not be a chore. Rather, they will be an easy addition to your hearth-centered life. Let me give you an idea of what that schedule will look like:

Pioneer Starter Feeding Schedule

Many years ago I read a pioneer journal that mentioned the baking process followed with the precious sourdough starter kept in the wagon. Each morning, dough that had been rising through the night was brought out of the wagon and baked in the morning coals. While the bread was cooking, the starter crock was also removed from the wagon, and a portion of the starter removed and mixed into a dough that would rise all day in the wagon while the company traveled. The starter was fed and put back in the wagon. In the evening, when camp had been set and coals were ready, the risen loaf was baked, the starter used to make more dough, then the starter was fed and returned to the wagon.

It was a seamless circle of activity that did not require much effort outside of what was already required to feed the family.

Since most of us are not accustomed to life outside of our comfort zone (more like a luxury-zone), there will be a few extra bits of info that need to be taken into consideration for a long-term emergency scenario where water sources may be less than optimal and other factors come into play.

Things you will need to know to care for your starter in a disaster situation:

  • Water: Purified/filtered water, or clean spring/well water. No iodine tablets or chemical purification.
  • Chlorinated water should be boiled before being used to feed your starter.
  • Boiled water should be cooled to room temp before being added to the starter. Hot water can kill/cook your starter.
  • Starter made with coarsely ground flour will get more liquid on top and will not rise as much, although it will get lots of bubbles that will hang out in the liquid.

Things you will already have learned from your refrigerator starter

  • How to feed your starter.
  • The activity rhythms of your starter.
  • What a healthy starter looks/tastes/smells like.
  • What a sick starter looks/tastes/smells like.
  • How to troubleshoot problems with your starter.
  • How to bake with your starter.

Things that will be different with a countertop starter

  • Your starter activity will change based on the season/temperature, being more active in summer and less active in winter unless kept in a temperature controlled environment.
  • Your starter will be more marshmallowy because it will be warmer and more elastic than a stiffer refrigerator starter.
  • Your starter may take on a stronger flavor.
  • Warmer temperature = increased activity = more frequent feedings.

As you can hopefully see, the best form of Natural Yeast Emergency Prep is living a life where natural yeast is part of your every-day routine. We don’t feed our starters daily, but we are constantly mindful of these marvelous little ecosystems we care for and benefit from. A huge percentage of the population won’t have even the slightest clue where bread “comes from” other than the store, and the only adjustment you’ll be making is moving your starter from the fridge to the countertop.


  1. says

    I’d be curious to read that pioneer account, it sounds really interesting. Do you possibly recall where you read it?

    (We made sourdough brownies yesterday, and shared them with our ward choir. They loved them. Not really relevant, I was just proud and wanted to share 🙂

    • thebreadgeek says

      I don’t remember exactly where I read it, I was doing a lot of research at the time and reading through tons of journals, and that was about 5 years ago, but I have been wanting to find it so hopefully I can track it down again! And awesome on the brownies!!

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