Hands-On Learning: Oregon Trail Sourdough Activity

  1. When I first started blogging, I gave my boys online nicknames to protect their identities.

My youngest was Bacon (for obvious reasons).

My oldest? Sourdough, not because he likes to eat it, but because he has been fascinated with microbiology and chemistry since he was four years old.  Over the years, he has taught me more than I ever thought I would want to know about fermentation processes and the importance of cellular respiration. He has made his own delicious kombucha and even brewed a killer case of beer (that he couldn’t drink but didn’t care).

One interest that has been consistent since he was a young child? Creating and keeping his own sourdough starter.

Feeding it, caring for it, watching it thrive… “It’s like a kind-of pet, Momma.”

Given all of this, it was no surprise a few weeks back when my son told me that we needed to order this special sourdough starter he had found online. I sighed, wondering how much it was going to cost me, but he quickly said, “It’s free and it’s a piece of history.”

Beautiful, sweet words for any homeschooling mom’s ears!

Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter

Turns out, there is an actual sourdough starter, believed to have been around since 1847, that made the trek across the Oregon Trail. It’s been passed down from generation to generation. When Carl (the last relative) died, family and friends carried on his tradition. They  share the starter for free if you are willing to send them a self-addressed stamped envelope. (They also accept donations to help with the ongoing administrative work. Even with a donation, this is one of the most inexpensive activities we have completed all year!).

My dysgraphic son, who HATES writing anything, carefully typed out a letter requesting a portion of the starter and hand addressed the envelope. It may seem like a little thing, but from a learning perspective, this alone made it worth the time.

After just about ten days, our little packet of history arrived, and quickly became our Friday Fun-Day activity for the week.

Hands-On Learning: Oregon Trail Sourdough Activity

I have to be honest with you, the young man completing this project did not want any help from me. As such, I do not have a complete list of exact steps. I can however, summarize my teenager’s activity, should you want to replicate it at home.

Step One: Watch several different YouTube videos from Alton Brown and our new favorite internet food guy, Brad Leone from Bon Appetit’s It’s Alive. Struggle to decide which complicated recipe is best. Then, ask your mom to find an easier one on google.


Step Two: Set aside an entire day. You will need it as sourdough is a living thing and requires a ton of care and concentration to fully develop (at least that is what I am told). Knead, mix, knead, rise and rise some more.


Step Three: Ask your mom to check on it in an hour.


Step Four: Bake according to the recipe and ask your mom to set a timer. Also, ask your mom to pull it out of the oven when it’s done because you really don’t like that part.


Step Five: Feel a sense of complete satisfaction at how good the bread smells, feels and tastes. Smile smugly when your mom eats three more pieces than she should have.

Friday Fun-days: 52 weeks of (usually) Easy For Mom Activities

Seriously, y’all, this bread was out of this world good. It was a perfect end to our American History unit (that we didn’t totally finish last school year). It also was worth every single calorie in every single bite.

Enjoy and don’t say I didn’t warn you!



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  1. This is great! I loved the story about your son and thanks for sharing this really neat resource!

  2. You’re at my house, aren’t you? That’s exactly how it works at my house.

  3. Wow! This is awesome. I love this idea. I remember learning about how Betsy Ross almost destroyed the families sourdough that had come from Europe. What a wonderful lesson.
    Blessings, Dawn

  4. Learning at its finest! We are gluten-free here but I’d LOVE to make this with my girls, especially knowing that this starter came from the original!

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