God in the Starter Bowl

This last week I’ve received quite a bit of correspondence from readers who, motivated by the prospect of home baked pannetone, have initiated their own homegrown bread starters. The giddy joy they’ve radiated has charmed me to say the least. And indeed I relish an opportunity to help modern bakers get personally acquainted with some of the best & tiniest friends mankind has ever had.

To say that I’m impressed by fermentation is a vast understatement. In truth I am in awe of it. Who, after all, can fathom how it came to pass that almost without fail — on virtually any part of the planet — the microbes that will win the day in a bowl of flour-water slush won’t give you anthrax, hemorrhagic fever or acne, but will instead leaven your bread or ferment your beer for you? I mean…what are the odds?

And of course bread and beer are just the beginning of the blessings that fermenting microbes have brought to humankind over the millennia. There’s cheese, yogurt, sausages, ham, pickles, vinegar, the list goes on. I’m not joking even slightly when I call it evidence of a benevolent creator.

Indeed we live in an age where more and more prominent scientists — especially mathematicians and physicists — are becoming mystics. They look at phenomena like the distance of the Earth to the Sun (which puts us in just the right temperature range for life), the structure of the DNA molecule, the “universal connector” that is the carbon molecule and the “universal solvent” that is water, and they see God. I say he’s no farther away than the starter dish. I mean just look in there will you!

I could ruminate about this all day, but lucky for you I have a very hectic work schedule. But I will say that given all the sudden interest in bread starters, I’ve realized that my tutorial on the subject is rather sub-par. In fact it’s darn confusing in parts. I’m going to re-photograph and rewrite it this week.

11 thoughts on “God in the Starter Bowl”

  1. Starters could even make a good Christmas gift! I was given some starter that I was compelled to “pass along” due to the rules of the “starter friendship chain.” That is–instead of throwing half your starter out in the typical manner, you bag it up and give it to a friend so they can start their own!

    1. The certainly would…for any of the baking nerds in your life! Nice idea.

      – Joe

  2. I once had the opportunity to attend an afternoon’s lecture by John Polkinghorn on the origins of life. Polkinghorn is a theoretical physicist, professor of math, fellow, and one time president of Queens College in Cambridge (and a bunch of other stuff) turned Anglican Priest.

    I certainly didn’t grasp everything that was said that afternoon, but his writings have never failed to provide food for thought. I’m sure he would be a wonderful conversationalist on the subject of God in the microbe of the bread starter and beer.

  3. I think you’re putting the cart before the horse on the question of our planet being suitable for life Joe. On planets that are unsuitable for life, life will not appear. Our planet MUST be suitable for life; if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here to think about it.

  4. Ahhhh….I’m not the only one! I marvel over this same phenomenon every time I bake bread of any kind. There’s also something about the mixture of butter, eggs, and sugar that’s also somewhat awe inspiring to me. God did an amazing job, even to the most microscopic detail.

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