Stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, scores of individuals bided their time with bread baking—so much so that packaged yeast was, at one point, hard to find in stores. That led many to explore the ancient art of making sourdough bread, which uses a form of wild yeast known as a starter.
A sticky substance comprised of flour, water and natural bacteria, a starter is often divided and shared among friends or family members. But Sarah Williams Hill developed an easier way to spread the sourdough baking hobby, by creating beginner kits using her homemade dehydrated starter.
Last September, the culinary entrepreneur launched her Home on Magnolia Hill sourdough starter kits, a DIY product that includes dehydrated starter in a lidded glass container, as well as flour for feeding the starter and instructions on how to rehydrate and maintain it. The kits are sold in a handful of local stores and through Etsy.
“I added it to my Etsy shop, where I was also selling essential oil diffuser bracelets, and it took off,” Hill says. “We’ve sold them to literally every state in the U.S. They’ve been really popular in the northeast and in southern California.”
Home bakers usually keep their starter in a container at room temperature when they’re actively baking sourdough loaves. They feed it daily with additional flour, removing half of the volume each time so that it doesn’t grow boundlessly. This “discard,” Hill says, is also great for making waffles, pancakes and other recipes.
An Etsy customer encouraged Hill to offer a gluten-free starter kit; its starter is made with rice flour. It can be fed with any gluten-free flour, she says. She also makes a whole-wheat version.
Hill and her husband and two children live on a rolling 12-acre farm in Ethel, family land studded with native magnolia trees—hence the brand’s name. It’s where she hopes to grow a line of sustainable lifestyle products, which one day could also include goat’s milk soap made from the milk of her small herd of Nigerian pygmy goats, she says.
Sourdough bread is something Hill says she’s long been passionate about because of its natural characteristics. Her family even has a name for her starter, which she made from scratch. It’s called “Bubbles.”
“I love the fact that starter replaces store-bought yeast,” Hill says. “It can be a family heirloom, and live forever.”