Pass It On

In a former life, I was obsessed with Amish Friendship Bread.

If you’re smiling right now, you’re familiar with the process of making Amish Friendship Bread. If you’re rolling your eyes and groaning, you’re really familiar with it.

For those of you less familiar, here’s how it goes: It starts with a “starter bag”: a soupy mix of ingredients in a gallon Ziploc bag. You receive it from a “friend,” and you tend it for the next ten days, occasionally squishing it around to mix the ingredients and keep the rising agents alive, and at one point in the process, adding several more ingredients into the bag, and then taking out of the bag enough of the soupy mixture to make four NEW starter bags, which you then give to other “friends,” and possibly keep for yourself for future use. Meanwhile, your bag goes on to become a loaf or two of sugary sweet bread so good that my department mates at my last school referred to it as “crack bread” and first adored me and eventually cursed me for its regular appearance on the breakroom table, in all its cinnamony, diabetic-coma-inducing glory.

But those four starter bags…every ten days. This process was as high-maintenance as it was pound-packing. And nobody has enough friends to hand off four starter bags every ten days. Friends who at first accepted them with delight eventually would change direction when they saw me coming, avoiding eye contact lest I foist upon them another Ziploc bag full of soupy, yeasty bread goop. And can you imagine how it multiplies with rabbit-like proliferation? Each of those four starter bags produces four more within a week and a half. And each of those produces four more. And so on! There aren’t enough friends in a city for that level of fecundity!

It ruled our lives. I swear, at one point, my best friend and I were crossing town to bag-sit during each other’s out-of-town trips, to squish each other’s bread-goop bags on the days bag-agitation was called for, just to keep the madness going.

I think maybe Amish Friendship Bread ultimately did more damage to my friendships than anything else, and eventually I had to give it up. Each cycle, the extracted new starter-bag goop got ladled down the sink, and for a while, I limped the process along just making the one new starter bag for myself as the current concoction went on to make the addictive final product, and mostly ate it myself, in my classroom or alone in my house, like a miser.

But that’s not how it was meant to be. It wasn’t half as decadent, not remotely rewarding to just make it for myself. It didn’t even taste good anymore, really. (Plus, within a few months, nothing in my closet fit besides). It was meant to be shared.

The Amish had the right idea, even if the bread was more fuss and abundance than anyone wanted. It was the passing on that was good. What if it had been mere kindness instead of bread-starters one had to pass on to four people every ten days?

If the thing you were passing on was more treat than burden, if it were spare change, loving words, the deep-into-one’s-eyes gaze that says, “I see you…”

If we gave those out every day…and the people to whom we gave them gave them again…that would catch on.

Let’s try it.

Written by Christine Engelen, rockstar high school English teacher and recovering Amish Friendship Bread-making fanatic, as an invitation to offering in August 2018.

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