Amish Friendship Bread

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Over the last 40 days (or so) I’ve been caught up in a baking frenzy that has swept my workplace: Amish Friendship Bread.  It all started when a colleague brought a freshly baked loaf of sweet bread and told us all to help ourselves.  I am already a nut for Amish baked goods after years of going to an Amish farm market in Indiana, (every year I head to Indy to visit my dad in the summer), so I dug right in!  I can’t even begin to say how excited I was to nosh on Amish bread well before my usual August binge.  It was so good, I asked if she would be willing to share the recipe so I could make it for myself.  Instead of writing it out for me, she handed over a large ziplock bag filled with pale goo and piece of paper with directions on what to do with my “starter.”

For the next six days, that goo sat on my counter and bubbled.  In between mushing the goo each day, I have to admit I was pretty fascinated with watching the yeast ferment.  On the sixth day, I got to add some ingredients and mush the bag some more until Day 10 or baking day arrived.

Baking day is where the real message of Amish Friendship bread comes through loud and clear. During the process, four cups of batter are pulled out and bagged for new starters.  These starters are then distributed to friends, family, neighbors, etc., while one is kept for yourself.  This creates an immediate connection with everyone in the circle as the next bake day arrives.  As the starter chain grows, the community grows and so does the sense of doing something meaningful.  Over the course of four batches, I realized I wasn’t baking alone and that created an instant kinship with every single person who had received a starter, including the people before and after my link in the chain. There is something magical and very warm about doing the same thing at the same time as those in my inner circle and beyond.  Every ten days that feeling comes back when I bake the next batch.

Better still, each batch yields two loaves of bread.  The sharing doesn’t end with starters!  It only continues as one loaf stays at home and the other is shared with others.  The office at work has been loaded with yummy loaves and muffins for weeks, while my grandparents always have a fresh loaf on their counter thanks to the baking efforts of me and my sister.

Batch #4 of Amish Friendship Bread

This experience has been very rewarding and tasty, so I thought I’d pass it along to my friends in the blogosphere.  The recipe for the starter is usually kept under wraps in order to keep the spirit of sharing alive, but I managed to find a starter recipe that matches up with the baking directions I received for my bread.  If you’re interested in starting an Amish Friendship Bread chain, go here for starter and baking recipes.

May we all be inspired to strengthen the bonds of friendship and keep strong the tradition of sharing.

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c.b. 2012

Hallowed History

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Halloween has never been a favorite of mine, but I am fascinated by the history of this quirky holiday.  While I may not dress up in costume or scare myself with horror movies, I can’t help but celebrate with some fun facts about the origins of Halloween.

The origins of Halloween can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the Celtic festival of Samhain. They celebrated the new year on November 1st, a day associated with the end of summer and the beginning of the cold, dark winter.  This time of year was associated with human death because the Celts believed that on the night before the new year the boundary between the dead and the living became a little blurry. In other words, the ghosts of the dead came to visit on October 31st.

Boo!

The idea of costumes originated with the Druids who dressed up in animal skins and told each other fortunes while a bonfire raged.  Later, costumes and masks were worn to scare off ghosts or avoid being recognized by dead sprits. To keep these spirits from entering the home, food and wine would be left on the front doorstep. In addition, carved turnips or gourds were illuminated as a means to ward off evil spirits, which eventually evolved into the tradition of carving pumpkins.

By 43 A.D. the Romans conquered most of the Celts and therefore Samhain was combined with Roman festivals. Feralia was a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead, while another day honored the goddess Pomona.  The symbol of Pomona was an apple, which might explain how the tradition of bobbing for apples began.

In the 7th century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1st as All Saints’ Day to honor all saints and martyrs.  Over time the holiday became known as All-hallows (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before, Samhain became known as All-hallow’s Eve.

In 1000 A.D. All Soul’s Day on November 2 became a day to honor the dead.  With this holiday, the trio of All-hallows Eve, All Saints’ and All Souls became known as the Hallowmas and they were celebrated with bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes.

Trick-or-treating most likely started in England during All Souls’ Day parades where poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes.”  These were given in exchange for a promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives.  The practice was known as “going-a-souling” and was eventually taken up by children who would visit homes in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.  The church encouraged this as a means to replace the pagan practice of leaving food outside the door.

Over the course of the 20th century, these origins slowly transformed into modern celebrations of parties, festivals, costumes, haunted houses, and candy.  While the original meaning has been lost, the traditions remain alive and well.  Even though I’m not a fan of anything spooky, I do love the candy.

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On an unrelated note, this is my 100th post!  Yay!

c.b. 2011