Amish Friendship Bread made the rounds of every “bring a covered dish” occasion when I was a young wife and mother. At a recent picnic, my friend Lorraine brought it up.
“Hey,” she said, “Remember Amish Friendship Bread? I loved that stuff. I wonder why nobody makes it anymore? Maybe I can find the recipe online.”
Against my better judgment, I decided to make it for her upcoming birthday.
Let me educate those of you who have never heard of it. Amish Friendship Bread could be called the annoying “chain letter of baked goods”. It required only slightly less commitment than bringing a newborn home from the hospital. As a matter of fact, it is quite similar.
You must first obtain a portion of the mysterious “starter.” Unlike bringing home a newborn; most of us know the “starter” for that one. We either married him or picked him up at the nearest bar. Who am I to judge?
Usually, a previous baker of the bread handed the starter to you in a plastic bag. It was a thick, slurry, beige-grayish liquid. No one knows what ingredients make up Friendship Bread starter, or where it originated. For all we know, it could have evolved when a cavewoman boiled toenail clippings and mastodon droppings in herbal tea.
Friendship Bread starter has no discernible beginning or end and smells a bit like decaying road kill. While preparing for the baking process, the starter must be carefully nurtured for ten days, occasionally “feeding” it flour, milk, and sugar and then “burping” the excess air out of the plastic bag it is incubating in.
It is as much trouble as raising the orphaned fledgling of a rare and exotic bird which requires bi-hourly feeding with minced Australian earthworms braised in herbal tea and delivered into its tiny mouth with an eyedropper.
Anyway, I decided to make the best of it, in order to make Lorraine’s birthday surprise of fresh Amish Friendship Bread. I named my starter Cindy. For ten days I dutifully fed, burped, and watched over her as she lay on the kitchen counter bubbling, gurgling, and fermenting. If I forgot to burp her, she periodically would swell like an infected boil, threatening to rupture the bag and spew the contents all over the kitchen. I had to turn down an offer of a vacation with my family because I could not find a babysitter for Cindy.
Then there was the ordeal of sibling rivalry. My son complained that I never had time for him or the rest of the family anymore. “Now, Son,” I reassured him, as I draped a cloth diaper over my shoulder and jiggled and patted a burp out of Cindy, “You know that Mommy loves you and Cindy both the same. She just needs me more than you do right now.”
I finally got Cindy raised and baked. Once you have completed the process, you are left with two sweet tasting loaves. They are pretty good, but not worth the outlay. It could be compared to winning the Boston Marathon after five years of rigorous training, only to find out that first prize is an aerosol can of jock itch medication.
Once the loaves are baked, you are left with four new bags of “starter” for which you must find loving homes, preferably with someone too dumb to know better. At first, I approached my friends politely.
“Janice, How about taking one of these starters off my hands?”
“No, thanks,” she said. “I am too busy for that,” she added as she slowly backed away.
“Aw, Come on,” I wheedled. “Just one bag for old time’s sake. We have been friends since grade school. How about it?”
“I said NO! Leave me alone! I can’t take care of it! It would cramp my lifestyle! My breadbox is full! My husband and I made a conscious decision not to have any more bread! That is why I had the gas lines to my oven disconnected if you get my drift.”
“Take the #@&*!*#$ starter, you selfish pig!” I shouted as I sprinted down the street after her.
They should change the name of this stuff to Amish Friendless Bread. The word is out that I am trying to unload four starters and my friends are avoiding me like the mirror in a dressing room during bathing suit season. The only way I could become more of a social pariah is if I had a lit unfiltered cigarette hanging from my lower lip.
I would throw all four of the starters into the garbage, but I am pretty sure that is illegal in at least 35 states. So I am raising Cindy’s quadruplet siblings by myself. I am exhausted.
Yesterday was Lorraine’s birthday. Remember Lorraine? She is the friend for whom I went through the whole ordeal. I served her a piece of the freshly baked Amish Friendship Bread and watched her for the joyful reacting I was expecting.
She took a bite, gave it a minute’s thought, and said, “You know, this stuff is not as good as I remembered.”
She will be picking those bread crumbs out of her nose and ears for weeks.