A friend recently gave me a bag of starter for Friendship Bread. I love the easily customized, moist, sweet bread that can be created from the starter, so I was thrilled.
But if you have ever received a bag of Friendship Bread starter you know that it can quickly become a curse. Oh, it starts out innocent enough. The small baggie of beige batter appears harmless. It’s basically one package of dry yeast, some warm water, three cups of flour, sugar and milk. The instructions that come along with the starter don’t appear foreboding either, although it does require a bit of a commitment.
There is nothing insidious about any of that, you might say. However, you would be mistaken. Within the bag of starter and accompanying recipe lies a sweet confection that could easily take over your life.
The first few days you simply squeeze the bag. Of course, the recipe leaves it open as to how much squeezing is required. Being a member of Over-Achievers Anonymous (yes, it’s true, we have our own 12-step program, only we’ve expanded it to 24-steps), I squeezed mine several times a day. I pulled myself back from actually setting a timer and squeezing it every two hours.
After being lulled into what would soon prove to be false security, the directions begin to get a little more complicated. Soon you are asked to add more milk, more flour and a few other ingredients. You then return to squeezing for another few days. All of that is followed by adding the rest of the ingredients and separating the result into equal shares of starter, which you are instructed to now pass on to other unsuspecting souls. This is how this edible chain letter is spread.
This is also when I knew I had bitten off more bread than I could chew. I was unable to find anyone who would take the starter bags of Friendship Bread. It seems as though everyone I know was aware of the pitfalls of raising this bread. And by now I indeed felt as though I was “raising” it because it was requiring more and more responsibility and a commitment similar to owning a pet. It had to be tended daily and fed regularly, and it felt somehow cruel and heartless to dump it out. I honestly considered driving mine into town and leaving the bags of starter near a house that looked friendly toward baked goods.
But instead I called my friend Andy, who was a professional baker, to ask if I might drop off some bags of Friendship Bread starter. His answer was a surprising and emphatic “No!” Then in a softer, more compassionate tone he explained, “I love Friendship Bread. It’s delicious, but it gets way out of hand. Do yourself a favor and get rid of it now, while you can. I’m telling you this for your own good. It will take over your life. Get out now!”
No one else I knew would accept a bag of Friendship Bread starter either, and since I had so much time and energy invested in the ever growing bags of batter I couldn’t bear to throw it out, so I’ve been spending every spare moment squeezing dozens of bags. I’m also spending 10 to 12 hours every couple of weeks baking the bread. My freezer is full of the stuff and my countertops are overflowing with bags of bread in various stages of completion.
Andy called the other day and when I told him I didn’t have time to chat he knew the real reason. “It’s the Friendship Bread, isn’t it? You didn’t get rid of it soon enough and now it has taken over, hasn’t it? I tried to tell you….” I hung up before he finished. I had bags to squeeze!