You can use any type of flour: all-purpose white, whole wheat, rye, etc. For my first starter, I used white whole wheat flour, which is still a whole grain, but it's not quite as strong tasting as whole wheat. The water needs to be non-chlorinated. If your city chlorinates the tap water, just fill a large cup and let it sit out for 24 hours.
To start a culture, all you need to do it put equal amounts of flour and water in the glass jar and stir it so it gets completely mixed. It doesn't matter how much, but I started with 1/4 cup of each. Cover the jar loosely with a towel, napkin, or coffee filter, and keep it on with a rubber band or canning ring.
Keep the jar in a warm place. The kitchen is usually a good spot. If I'm using the stove, I'll pull the jar close to it while I'm cooking.
For the first three days, you will need to remember to feed your starter every 12 hours, so think about what times you will be able to feed it. When you feed it, again add equal parts flour and water. It doesn't matter the amount; you could feed it as little as one tablespoon of each if you don't plan on using it for a while and don't want it to grow too big.
You may have heard from other sources that every time you feed it, you need to throw some out. There is a growing group of people who don't do this. I am one of them. It's a waste of perfectly good starter! However, if you see a brownish liquid at the top, carefully spoon it out. This is completely normal! It's been one week since I've started my culture, and I've found it twice.
Eventually, you will start to see bubbles forming in your culture. I started seeing mine the same day. That was probably just beginner's luck. Don't get discouraged if it doesn't happen as quickly for you. Remember that a culture is a living thing and will act as such! It might be in a good mood and do what you ask, or it might be having a bad day and do nothing at all. Here is mine bubbling away.
Here you can see the bubbles at the bottom.
After the first three days, you can get lazy and feed the starter once per day. Do this for at least four days. After that, you can stick it in the fridge, feed it once a week, and use the sourdough at a later date. If you want to get started on making sourdough goods, keep it out and continue daily feeding, even if it's just a little bit.
On another note, your jar will start to get crusty and gross at the top from all the stirring and sticking a spoon in it constantly. When you can't stand it anymore, it's time to change the jar. Simply pour all of your starter into a fresh clean jar. For me, this happened on day 6.
If you're still too intimidated to start your own starter, that's okay! I won't judge you! :) There are a couple of places you can buy reliable starters (note: you'll still need to feed it with flour and water). King Arthur Flour sells a fresh starter here for $6.95, or you can get a free dried starter here from Carl Griffith.
See, that really was easy, wasn't it? Check back next week for Part 3, where we'll begin to use our sourdough!
Sourdough Series Part 1: Why Sourdough?
Sourdough Series Part 3: Pancakes
Sourdough Series Part 4: Biscuits
Sourdough Series Part 5: Pizza Crust
Sourdough Series Part 6: Bread
Sourdough Series Part 7: Tortillas