April 5, 2011 at 12:56 pm , by Lauren Piro
Things are restless in the tiny town of Avalon. A mother grieves a devastating loss as her marriage hangs on by a string. A concert cellist adjusts to her new life away from the big city—and away from her husband. Families deal with money problems, pregnancies and careers, and yet no one’s really talking. That is until Amish friendship bread appears at main character Julia Evarts’s door, sending the townspeople on the emotional ride they’d long been avoiding in Darien Gee’s charming new novel, Friendship Bread, which releases today.
As Darien writes, Amish friendship bread has a reputation for showing up unexpectedly in your life, and is even a bit polarizing. You begin with your own bag of starter, tend to it for ten days and then end up with three more to pass along to friends. Much like a chain letter (but with no ill will intended), the starter grows and grows until it expands your circle of friends—or has them running away when they see you coming with another bag! In Friendship Bread, the loaf is the thread that links the characters’ lives, and Darien has found that this is true in real life as well, having created a large online community of followers and recipe-swappers on Facebook and her website, Friendship Bread Kitchen.
I had the chance to chat with her about all of this last week.
So, tell me how Amish friendship bread found you and inspired your novel.
I’d never heard of Amish friendship bread until about two years ago when my daughter came home with some slices on a plate and a bag of starter. I could just feel it – this was going to be a project! I figured we wouldn’t do it, but then I tried the loaf and was instantly hooked.
By my second or third piece, I saw Julia Evarts in my mind, holding up the bag of starter with a look of reluctance and grief on her face. I started writing the novel that night.
And what about the rest of the characters? There are quite a few of them. And their stories overlap and intertwine throughout the novel.
I write like I’m watching a movie – I don’t really plan my novels out beforehand, so everything came together really organically. When I started the second chapter, Julia’s sister Livvy just came to me like, “Oh! Julia’s got a sister! And oh! They’re not talking anymore!” All of the other characters showed up in the same way, and it was almost like the town of Avalon was actually there and I just got to write about it.
Click “Read More” for more from Darien and the friendship bread recipe!
For the two or three months I spent writing the book, friendship bread really became my life. As I was trying out recipes, I was getting more and more excited, so I started posting recipe variations on Facebook (there’s so much you can do with the starter) and it really grew from there. I joke with my friends that I can find anyone within “six degrees of friendship bread,” and it’s true! We now have over 35,000 people on Facebook and over 100 recipes on Friendship Bread Kitchen.
As I was doing my research, I found that whether people loved or hated the bread, they always had all these wonderful stories. No one could be neutral about it! A woman gave me a bag of starter that came from one that she got in 2006, and I still have it. It’s incredible the stories people have, and that’s why it was fun as the premise of the novel.
What message do you hope readers will take away from the novel?
The bread is really more symbolic than literal. As it makes it’s way through the town and the characters’ lives, it’s really a catalyst for moving and changing. I’d be really happy if other people got the same message – that we’re never alone, and that we’re connected in ways both seen and unseen. There are so many opportunities for good things to come into our lives even when difficult or terrible things have happened. Someone we haven’t even met yet could be waiting to be part of the next chapter of our lives, and we should recognize that and feel excitement about what’s to come.
What is your favorite variation of the friendship bread recipe?
We’ll, even though I’m a chocoholic, I’m a huge fan of the classic cinnamon-sugar loaf that comes with the original instructions. I put in raisins and walnuts, but you can do a lot with many dried fruits or berries. You can even make pancakes, biscotti, scones, and biscuits with the starter, and it’s fun to work on perfecting it.
So tell us, do you have a story about baking with friends and family? Have you made Amish friendship bread? Do you have a favorite recipe? Here’s the original:
AMISH FRIENDSHIP BREAD
Amish Friendship Bread starter is passed from one friend or neighbor to another, usually in a Ziploc bag or ceramic container.
1 (0.25 oz) package dry active yeast
¼ cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup milk
1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in water. Let stand for 10 minutes.
2. In a glass, plastic or ceramic container, combine flour and sugar. Mix thoroughly.
3. Slowly add in milk and dissolved yeast mixture. Cover loosely and let stand at room temperature until bubbly, and then transfer to a plastic bag. This is Day One of the ten-day cycle.
4. For the next 10 days, care for your starter according to the below instructions. Do not refrigerate the starter. It is normal for the batter to rise and ferment. If air gets in the bag, let it out. Do not use a metal bowl or spoon.
Day 1: Do nothing
Days 2 – 5: Mash the bag.
Day 6: Add to the bag 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup milk. Mash the bag.
Days 7 – 9: Mash the bag.
Day 10: Pour entire bag into a nonmetal bowl. Add 1-½ cup flour, 1-½ cup sugar, 1-1/2 cup milk. Measure out 4 separate batters of 1 cup each into four one-gallon plastic bags. Keep one the bags for yourself and give the other bags to three friends along with this recipe.
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Put the remaining batter in a bowl and add the following:
1 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1-½ teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1-2 boxes instant pudding (any flavor)
1 cup nuts, chopped (optional)
1 cup raisins (optional)
3. Grease two large loaf pans.
4. In a bowl, mix an additional ½ cup sugar and 1-½ tsp cinnamon.
5. Dust the greased pans with sugar/cinnamon mixture.
6. Pour the batter evenly inot the pans and sprinkle the remaining mixture on the top.
7. Bake for one hour or until the bead loosens evenly from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean.
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