Will friendship bread help us all get along?
I awoke New Year's Eve morning to a story on National Public Radio about the Friendship Bread Project in which reporter Kristen Hartke described friendship bread as the "chain letter of baking." It's a simple starter that you make, saving some for yourself and sharing the rest with friends.
Hartke says it is an old tradition that connects neighbors through the act of sharing food. She wants to see if we can revive the tradition in our communities, and I thought it might be fun to promote the project through Lifting the Fork.
Recognizing that families and friends find themselves on opposite sides of our country's political divide these days, Hartke wondered if it was possible that tasty treats, baked under the guise of friendship, could provide a respite from the conflict — and even become a source of healing.
Friendship bread is made of flour, sugar, milk, water and yeast, which is mixed together and allowed to develop for 10 days at room temperature. According to the NPR story, the person who makes the starter keeps some to bake a loaf of bread or other baked item, then divides the rest to pass along to friends. If a little starter is left, it serves as the base for a new batch of starter.
Evidently, friendship bread was particularly popular in the 1930s, when Depression-era homemakers were trying to be resourceful and plan ahead.
Hartke shared the story of Darien Gee, who first heard about friendship bread in 2009 and became so enchanted by the idea of its healing quality that she wrote the novel "Friendship Bread," a story of three strangers who connected over the bread, forging friendships while coping with personal demons.
"In communities where the starter is actively passed around, touching different households and very different lives, it reflects the community among us," Gee said in explaining why the friendship bread concept resonates with her. "We are doing this together, we are in this together. This starter exists because we are all playing a part in this process."
Hartke presented this baking challenge to American audiences: "Make up your own batch of friendship bread starter and start a new chain, then tell us about what you made and who you shared it with, especially if you've shared it with family, friends or coworkers who have conflicting world views from yours. Post photos of the results on social media and tag them with #NPRFriendshipBread and we may do a follow-up story about your friendship bread experience."
The story closed with this quote from Gee:
"I think any act of giving is the first step in healing a broken or frayed relationship," she said. "I am all about baking with intention, and I'd like to think that the act of baking, coupled with the act of giving, could be the start of a new conversation."
Hartke poses the question, "Can baking promote unity?" Let's find out. I'll share my friendship bread with co-workers, and if you'd like some of my starter, send me an email. Let's make 2018 a year of unity.
Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!
Friendship Bread Starter
Makes 4 to 6 cups of finished starter
.25-ounce package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup milk
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Let stand 10 minutes. In a 2-quart non-metallic bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar, then slowly stir in the milk and dissolved yeast mixture. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let stand at room temperature until bubbly. This is Day One of the 10-day cycle. Once the mixture is bubbly, you can transfer the mixture into a gallon-size zip-lock plastic bag, sealing and leaving at room temperature, and follow the process below. Remember that the bag can fill up with air as the starter ferments, so be sure to release that air so the bag doesn't burst. The finished starter can also be frozen in 1-cup increments and thawed when ready to use.
Day 2-5: Mash the bag.
Day 6: Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk. Mash the bag until well mixed.
Day 7-9: Mash the bag.
Day 10: Pour starter into a non-metallic bowl and add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk. Mix well with a non-metal spoon. Divide out 1-cup portions of the starter into separate gallon-sized zip-lock plastic bags. Keep one bag for yourself and give the rest away, along with these instructions and a baked friendship bread recipe of your choice.
Original Amish Friendship Bread
Makes two 9-inch-by-4-inch loaves
I cup friendship bread starter
1 cup oil
1½ cup milk
1 cup sugar
1½ teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1 or 2 small boxes instant pudding (any flavor)
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup raisins (optional)
1½ cup sugar
11½ teaspoons cinnamon
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two large (9-inch-by-4-inch) loaf pans and dust with the cinnamon sugar topping mixture, reserve any excess.
Mix together all bread ingredients thoroughly and pour batter evenly into the loaf pans. Sprinkle remaining cinnamon sugar mixture on top and bake for one hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the bread has pulled away slightly from the sides of the pan. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans before inverting onto a rack to cool completely.
Recipes courtesy of Darion Gee, friendshipbreadkitchen.com.
To learn more about the Friendship Bread Project, visit npr.org/salt.