The Joys and Woes of Friendship Bread

Yes, it's closer to cake than bread. But this delicious treat doesn't inspire happiness in all friends. 

by Alison McDonough • More.com Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

Spring is here, and that means that the neighbors are visible again. In winter, a quick wave before you duck inside the house qualifies as social interaction. But when spring comes, it’s different. You linger. You chat. You exchange pleasantries. And that’s got me nervous.

Frankly, I’m afraid someone may give me a bag of Amish friendship bread starter.

If you’ve never been the recipient of one of these mysterious squishy bags, allow me to explain.

This is how it goes. You get a Ziploc bag of yeast starter and you’re told to keep the starter for awhile, let it ferment, and then divide it up, so your friends can make the bread too.

I remember the first time I got the Friendship Bread bag. It was back in my young mom days, and I was excited! What a sweet idea, I thought. How nice it would be to take the time to do something the old-fashioned way. And share with friends! I could hardly wait to start.

 I looked at the instructions.  They were specific. Very specific. Day to day specific.

Day One, the instructions told me, do nothing. Well, okay. Sure, I was anxious to get started, but I could wait a day.

On Day Two, according to the instructions, you were supposed to squeeze the bag.

I squeezed the bag.

Day Three, squeeze the bag again. Okay.

Day Four, squeeze the bag again. All right.

Day Five: Squeeze. The. Bag. Again.

On Day Six, I finally got some action. I was to add a cup of milk, a cup of flour, and a cup of sugar!

But on Day Seven, it was back to one squeeze.

On Days Eight and Nine, I forgot to squeeze the bag. My bad.

Day Ten—yes! Finally! Baking day! Woohoo! I added more milk, sugar and flour and put it into four separate bags. One to keep, and three to give away, along with a copy of the instructions. Now to actually make the bread!

There were lots of ingredients. Lots and lots. Among other things, the recipe called for vanilla pudding, which is not a staple at my house. I ran to the store in the rain for vanilla pudding, wondering why the Amish are allowed to use Ziploc bags when they can’t even use buttons.

Finally I made the bread. (And by the way Amish, who are you kidding? Bread? This stuff is cake.)

Now it was time to give away the starter bags. I started with my daughter’s friend Isabelle’s mom.

“Oh,” said Isabelle’s mom in a flat voice.  “It’s that Amish Friendship bread.”

I had never noticed it before, but Isabelle’s mom seemed kind of sad. I wondered if she suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I gave the second starter bag to the dog lady who lives around the corner. Dog Lady heaved a deep sigh when she took the bag. I thought that maybe she was trying to avoid sugar. Possibly diabetic?

The day after that, I offered a starter bag to my cousin Bonnie. She absolutely refused to take it.

Apparently Bonnie had been offered three Amish Friendship bread starter bags in the past two months.

“And ,” she said, “I’ll tell you this. I asked the lady who sells soap at the Amish Farmers’ Market about Amish Friendship bread. And she says she never heard of it!”

I went back home.

That one last starter bag was still sitting on my counter. Oh I tried, but no one would take it. And, according to the instructions, I was not allowed to refrigerate the bag.

I had two choices. I could let it lie on my counter forever. Or, I could start the whole sticky process all over again.

To make a long story short, I’ve been making Amish Friendship bread ever since. My freezer is bursting, my dogs are fat, and the local food pantry locks its door when it sees me coming.

Anyway, if you’re interested in a bag of Friendship bread starter, let me know.

Why would I want to put you through the anguish I’ve just described?

What’s your reaction?