Two weeks ago I received an Amish Friendship Bread starter from April, a great woman from my ward. I finally got to make the bread this past weekend and it was delicious. I'm so grateful that April gave me a start because I've always wanted to participate in this yummy baking pass-a-long tradition. Since making the bread, though, I've had the whole process on my mind. I've been thinking about why it might be important to preserve a tradition like this in our modern world.
Scott says that the Amish, not having preserved yeast colonies instantly available in supermarkets, use the friendship bread tradition to preserve their community's yeast. Someone in the community gets a yeast colony started with all the necessary ingredients as well as the required time and effort. Once there is a yeast colony thriving in their dough, however, they don't want to just bake it all. Then they would have to start the colony all over again! In order to preserve and share their effort, they pull a part of the dough out to make some starters, which they then disseminate throughout the community. Their friends and neighbors are then spared the trouble of having to build a yeast colony from the ground up. They now take on the responsibility of caring for the yeast and, when it becomes time for them to make bread, they will pass that blessing and responsibility on to someone else.
It's a wonderful tradition that is completely unnecessary in today's modern world. Yeast is very easy for us to come by and preserve. And when we use it to make Amish Friendship Bread, we are always putting more ingredients into the dough than we are getting out of it. When someone receives a starter, they should be well aware that they will be giving away three times as much baking stuff as they receive. When I came to the end of my cycle, I was grateful to have been a part of it but wasn't sure if anyone else would want to make the sacrifice that I had made. I thought maybe I should just turn all of the dough I had created from the starter into loaves of bread and give those away, instead of the starts. Wouldn't my neighbors rather have a loaf of Amish Friendship Bread right now than a start for it that would require ten days of waiting and a significant output of food on their part? It's not that I begrudged anyone the contribution I had made. I just doubted that anyone else would want to make the same contribution. In my eyes, the starter was a liability. Why should I pass it on?
So, as my modern mind was railing against this tradition, the starts sat fermenting on my kitchen counter. The yeast colonies grew. And they weren't going to be put to good use any time soon. Until my husband told me that passing on the dough was not about serving other people. He said that it was about giving other people an opportunity to serve. It was about developing closeness and interdependence in our community. It's not a problem that I'm passing along a bread recipe that will require more foodstuff than it will create. That's the whole point. How dare I assume that my friends and neighbors would not appreciate the chance to care for our communal yeast colony! How dare I assume that they would begrudge their friends and neighbors a few cups of sugar and milk!
I passed them along. I hope they come back to you. I hope you get to be a part of a community greater than you. I hope you get the chance to serve. If not, you can get things started in your area.