The tradition of Amish friendship bread, an edible chain letter of sorts, inspired Darien Gee’s novel Friendship Bread, which came out in paperback this month. Here, she tells how she discovered it.
I may be in the minority when I say that my life was changed by a bag of fermenting batter.
It started in 2009 when my then eight-year-old daughter brought home a Ziploc bag filled with a gooey sourdough starter. My initial response was a shake of the head—if you’ve ever seen (or smelled) fermenting batter, well, let’s just say that it’s something you won’t soon forget. She also had a few slices of what looked like banana bread and a page of instructions. The top of the page read “Amish Friendship Bread.”
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that this was essentially a culinary chain letter, a “bake and share” routine that grew exponentially as you passed the starter on to not one, but three more people. I could see people running in the opposite direction, a bit like I wanted to do at that moment.
My daughter begged me to try a piece, so I did. It was moist and sweet with a sugar-cinnamon crunch. I finished off the slice and was starting on another one when I saw a woman in my mind, reluctantly holding up a bag of starter and regarding it with a frown. She was lovely, but she was sad. I didn’t know what had happened, but it was clear that she was stuck in the day-to-day motions that mimicked life when in fact she hadn’t felt alive in years.
I put the bag of starter in a mixing bowl, the instructions tucked inside, and placed it on the counter. I told my daughter we would be baking in 10 days and I started writing Friendship Bread that night.
Friendship Bread is about a bag of starter that’s left anonymously on a doorstep with a note that says, “I hope you enjoy it.” It’s about how the starter makes its way around a small Illinois river town and into the home—and lives—of its residents. It’s about two estranged sisters who find a way to reconnect, about friends who encourage and surprise and inspire one another. It’s about a town that pulls together to help a neighboring community in need. There’s nothing magical about the book and at the same time the whole thing is a delicious miracle, lives catalyzed by this one seemingly simple thing.
In the time it took to write and revise the novel, I experimented with different variations of the bread and baked over a hundred loaves. I gave and was given starter. I reached out to people who loved the bread and have kept a starter going for years. I launched the Friendship Bread Kitchen, a Website with over 225 Amish Friendship Bread recipes and tips to help people get started in baking and sharing their own bread. Our Facebook page grew exponentially, just like the starter, and now has over 70,000 fans. Many people have told me how they’ve experienced acts of kindness as a result of receiving the bread in a time of need, which is the true spirit of Amish Friendship Bread. It’s about reaching out and helping others, which in turn helps ourselves because we are all connected in ways both seen and unseen.
The moral of the story? If a bag of starter lands on your doorstep, consider baking it at least once and sharing it with others. You may be surprised at how your life may change.