Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Friendship Bread

I recently was given a starter for Amish Friendship bread. This was the second starter I was given but the first one, poor thing, through no fault of its own, didn’t survive. (I don’t want to talk about it.) The second time I was given a starter it also came with a sample of the end product which, since it was rather tasty, probably went a long way to ensuring its survival. This time around I was able to bring it all the way to the loaf without incident. Until I got my first (unsuccessful) starter I had no idea such a thing existed. And I was a little dubious of the whole thing. Technically what you are given is a live yeast starter but what it actually is is a cup of icky, bubbling, smelly goo. And along with the goo, I mean starter, I was given a sheet of instructions with detailed directions of what to do with it for the next ten days. That’s right, ten days. It was like being asked to look after someone’s pet while they were away on vacation. On this day do that and on this day do this. No refrigerator, no metal utensils. It seems it is a rather temperamental little thing. So for ten days I have this stuff sitting on my counter fermenting. Fermenting to the point that the pressure built up and popped the top right off the container I had it in if I wasn’t careful. But I took care of it, fed it and kept in warm, and on the tenth day I ended up with two loaves of bread and three starters to pass on to others. The bread is good and the process not really hard. It is just trying to remember to do it and then trying to remember what day of the process you are on that is difficult. Despite the way I make it sound I would say that if you find yourself in possession of a starter it would be worth doing. At least the once. It is better if you have a lot of friends. Hopefully ones who like to bake. Or at least ones who are not going to hate you for making them do this or know you well enough that there will be no guilt or hard feelings on either side if the whole thing ends up in the trash. And perhaps maybe even more important than that, friends who have a lot of other friends so you don’t end up getting back three starters in ten days time. I think to really appreciate the process you have to believe what it says on the instructions I got, that it is more than a recipe – it’s a way of thinking. It is kind of neat to think that the one starter started so many others and you get to pass on a tradition along with the bread. But I guess you could also look at it like an edible chain letter that should be sent straight to your spam folder. It’s all in how you look at it.

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