The four contenders in the experiment were stored for three weeks and not fed. Three of the four were placed in the refrigerator, the very back of the fridge where food is left to spoil. The contenders were:
1. 65 percent hydration starter (white all-purpose flour);
2. My regular starter (white all-purpose flour, 100 percent hydration);
3. Leftover rye starter (produced for a bread made a few weeks ago); and
4. Dried starter flakes - the only non-refridgerated contender
The award goes to ...
The clear winner was the 65 percent hydration starter. It popped back to active starter status practically the minute it was taken out of the fridge. Maybe not that quickly, but within a day.
And the runners up, in order, are
After the 65 percent hydration starter comes the rye starter, which has small bubbles and that brown, almost speckled appearance, that combine to make it more difficult to tell when the starter is active.
Next up was the regular starter. Last, but not least, were the dried flakes.
Better than frozen
All contenders became active within two and a half days, way ahead of the five-to-seven days needed to resuscitate a starter after it has been frozen.
I checked my source for the freezing advice so I know I did not just dream up that method of storing starter. However, if my third-grade-worthy science experiment has any validity, and I would argue that it does (though far from perfect laboratory conditions), then the freezing option will not be used again at my house. For the next duration of more than one week of non-feeding, I will be using the 65 percentage method and, for a long enough absence, the flakes, most likely with a back-up option.
For a brief historty, here's the tale of the starter experiment at the onset.