Inspired by our trip to San Francisco and the wonderful sourdough bread they have there, I decided to take advantage of our being home for the next few weeks to do something I’ve always meant to try – create my own sourdough starter.

If you are not familiar with this, the starter is used instead of adding yeast to your bread, and it is what gives the sourdough its distinctive tangy flavor. What’s interesting is the flavor will be different for bakers in different locations, and even in different batches.

This is because the starter makes use of wild yeast and bacteria, floating in the air all around us. The more often you bake bread in your kitchen, the more wild yeast hanging out. Further, the wild yeast and bacteria present varies in different parts of the country and the world. So the yeast/bacteria here in Knoxville is not the same as the yeast/bacteria found in San Francisco, hence there will be a difference in texture and flavor.

Technically, the yeast is what makes the bread rise. As the tiny one-celled creatures consume the flour I feed them, they give off water and carbon dioxide. This causes the bubbles that expand the bread. They die during the baking, leaving bread with a nice consistency and those little air pockets.

Before commercial yeast was available, bakers would start their own colonies in feeders, and mix in some with the bread they were baking. Someone in the dim past must have had a series of warm days where he didn’t use his starter, and something magic happened – the flavor of sourdough bread was born.

You see, after care and patient feeding for a week or more, lactobacillus bacteria starts to collect, forming lactic and acetic acid. As these acids accumulate, you get the classic sourdough flavor.

It is a simple process, but takes some time, dedication, and patience. All you need is just water and flour. It is a humble process, and one that can give you odd feelings of affection and power over your charges.

It occurred to me as I was feeding my batch today, that what I really have created is a living thing. The starter is very much like a little civilization. That makes me sort of a god to them – they rely on me to provide them with heat, water, and food. I started to imagine I could hear their little prayers drifting up to me on the carbon dioxide bubbles.

Although they worship me, they must fear me by now too. After all, when this began I called them forth by mixing flour and water. My yeast creation was fruitful and multiplied, and they did spread throughout the bowl.

What came next? Why, I smote them mightily! I randomly condemned half of my creation to the garbage disposal! Shades of Thanos, right?

But I am a merciful god – I then gave them water, and food in abundance, and the people sang and rejoiced.

Until I did smite them again.

What theological webs they must be weaving, explaining why a benevolent god would allow such suffering, sending them cycles of destruction and reward, as they build and rebuild their society.

I imagine that at last, after a week or ten days when they are joined by the lactobacillus tribe, some of the clearer thinkers might begin to understand a basic truth. Sure, it seems like their god is smite-happy and cruel, but maybe they don’t understand his grand plan? Perhaps, they will reason, god does not smite and feed us out of cruelty after all! For surely his Work has transformed us into the strongest of all yeast colonies, as we are now joined by the mighty lactobacillus and are producing gas, water, and acids in great abundance! Surely we have at last pleased our lord!

So I continue tending my flock, in the hopes that one day they will understand that they have been part of a larger plan all along.

And verily, I shall then cook and eat them.