Conversation and Mother Culture

“Conversation calls out into light what has been lodged in all the recesses and secret chambers of the soul: by occasional hints and incidents it brings old useful notions into remembrance; it unfolds and displays the hidden treasures of knowledge with which reading, observation, and study, had before furnished the mind. By mutual discourse the soul is awakened and allured to bring forth its hoards of knowledge, and it learns how to render them most useful to mankind. A man of vast reading without conversation is like a miser, who lives only to himself.”  – Isaac Watts, Improving the Mind, blogged about what he says about conversation here.


In the comments there, somebody asked me if I found I had many such conversations.  I do, but I had to think about why that is, and where I have them.  Largely, I have them via online conversations with some few special friends who like to talk about ideas and eschew small talk.  I also really cannot do small talk, it is the stuff of nightmares to me.  I don’t mean I am above it, I mean I am baffled by it and never know what to say and then end up saying the wrong thing.  Or things, more likely.  I get nervous and anxious and blurt out dumb things that come out all wrong and sound insulting.  I hate small talk. So I tend not to hang out in places and with people where small talk will abound.  And I prefer written exchanges anyway, so this works for me.

But I started wondering how one goes about finding more real life friends who engage in conversation about ideas.

While pondering, I remembered the old term Mother Culture, because regular conversations, deep, meaningful conversations, are one of the best form of M.C. I know of.   So I looked it up at Google Books and found:

Mother Culture 1

Indulge me.  I know this is about cheese-making, but really, some of this applies.  Keep chill until ripe.  Examine yourself, skimming off what needs to be skimmed, stir well by thinking about ideas, mixing with others, reading widely, ruminating- and also, keep something in reserve. Don’t spill all your thoughts at once.

It’s advisable to propagate mother culture from day to day.  Just as a dab of this mother culture will grow into more culture for more cheese of tasty goodness, so you, too, can bring the conversation somebody else needs. Be the kind of friend you are looking for yourself.

Here’s another quote from a different vintage book:

“It is important that all vessels with which the mother culture and the buttermilk come in contact should be scalded with boiling water If this is not done just sour milk of a poor flavor will be the result ”

“One sees that the big problem is to secure a good mother culture. If the mother culture is good, the buttermilk will be good and the rest is easy if the directions given here are followed.”

this book also advises regular checking for purity and cleanliness, making sure the culture hasn’t gone bad due to contaminants.

I’m sure you see parallels.

Finally, ” Before I sit down I want to say that I find all along the line a large number who are having a great deal of trouble with their starter and I believe that in every instance I have found that it was all due not to a man’s lack of knowledge but to downright carelessness. Carelessness will create more trouble in a creamery than any other one thing, and as for that,anywhere else.

As an instance I will relate that only a short time ago a man called me into his creamery and said ‘My butter is off flavor…’   I took his tub of butter and got his flavor and then I said to him ‘Let me see your culture,’ and he took me over to his starter can. The moment I saw that I knew exactly where the trouble was. It was not the culture but the mother culture that I next looked after and when I took the lid off it had as bad a smell as any swill barrel I ever put my nose into. I said to him “Your culture is absolutely off!”

Then we went about to start a mother line which we did with whole milk And right here I would like to speak again of the point that perhaps not all buttermakers take into consideration. Indeed I did not appreciate it until it was brought to my mind demonstrated to me in my dairy school course and that is the fact that men are careless. They are not as particular as they should be and in no other place is it more important that scrupulous care be taken than in the dairy business. There must be very great care taken in sterilizing and if this is not done, and done all the way through from start to finish, there will be unsatisfactory results in spite of your best efforts ”



Friendship for Grown-Ups: What I Missed and Learned Along the Way by Lisa Whelchel has some very straightforward suggestions on conversational prompts and discussion starters. This is so helpful for people like me, paralyzed by small talk.

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One Comment

  1. Leisa
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I have always felt as if I was alone with my dislike and problems with small talk…so glad it isn’t just me! That is a fantastic metaphor for describing mother culture. It is so important to find someone to discuss ideas with and have those conversations. I’m still on the search for those people.

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