Geneva, Wednesday 18 March 2020
Today, I wake up and reach for a big mixing bowl, flour, oil, salt and yeast. There’s something almost primal about making bread. It’s not cooking; it’s about handling a living thing. It’s somewhere between brewing and owning a pet. To knead (pétrir) the dough is to feel the gluten fibres forming. It relaxes me and, by producing an essential foodstuff, puts me in the spirit of swimming against the current of doom-laden news. Today, especially, It appeals to the survivalist in me.
This morning’s loaf is particularly satisfying. We’re going to get through this (both the loaf and the crisis!)
Yeast. Now there’s something that tells stories; human stories. Yeast – the microbe Saccharomyces cerevisiae – when warm and wet, digests carbohydrates such as sugar and starch turning them into alcohol (as discovered by Louis Pasteur, the clever dude who also gave us pasteurised milk…. I digress!) and carbon dioxide. Both chemicals make the bubbles in risen dough that when baked makes bread. Both chemicals have profound importance for humans. (Don’t they just!) And consider this: I take some dormant commercially produced little yeasty-beasties from my fridge. I warm them up in water and give them a huge food source in the form of flour. They binge on the starch therein giving no thought to whether this resource might be limited; they multiply and fart as they go. After a while when they’ve done their job, I cook ’em up. They die. Lovely loaf. Thanks, guys! If we were to plot their numbers in the hour that the dough took to rise, we would see a classic exponential population growth curve that, non-coincidentally, is exactly the same as the up-phase of an epidemic curve (with which we are now all so familiar!) But…. without cooking and just leaving the dough in the bowl, they would continue to multiply for a while. Then, as they run out of resources and poison themselves with their own waste products such as lactic and acetic acids, their numbers would level off and then fall. This also is non-coincidentally similar to the peak and recovery phase of the epidemic curve (which we are hoping to see soon.) The dough would eventually collapse and putrify having been overtaken by all sorts of other microbes because the refined YBs can’t cope. How about that! Yeast. Nutritional resources. Beer. Wine. Global warming. Population growth. Overcrowding. Pollution. Epidemics. All in one bowl! Perhaps that’s why I thought of making some bread this morning.
I listen to the BBC news. Few things nauseate more than a British politician stating that us natives of that soggy little Atlantic island are doing so well (presumably in comparison with other nearby nations) because we have some unique and inherent national quality for survival as evidenced by our resilience in World War II. After all, we will as usual keep calm and carry on. I wish the BBC would filter out this kind of opinion. I would love to ask this booze-faced, old-school-tied piece of baggage – for the record – if he really believes that there is some national characteristic (or even gene!!) that gives us an edge over the virus. Not wanting to admit to such beliefs he would then do the politician’s deflection from the question to how awful the situation is in other nearby nations as if this makes the case. He would then chuff off to his club – that is still open for members – for luncheon and gabble-guffaw to his pals that the French are just bloody hopeless, the Italians are going to sing it all away (well they would wouldn’t they?) and ha! ha! ha! the Germans are going to march around in step to loud military music. From my perspective and living in Switzerland, every nation has its back to the wall in the face of a unique and terrifying situation. The UK response is likely to be just as effective or just as useless as that of any of our neighbours. Sorry…. bit of a rant. Well, it is just a diary.
Today’s lunchtime balcony putting match: The Mr (me) 16/20 (80%) The Mrs 12/20 (60%). Changing to matchplay tomorrow.