Spreading the Love...Amish Friendship Bread Style

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Author Darien Gee and the Friendship Bread Kitchen are calling March Amish Friendship Bread "Bake and Take" Month. They're asking individuals and families to bake with any excess Amish Friendship Bread starter and give the bread in gratitude to someone who least expects it: the person who delivers your mail, who drives the carpool, who checks your membership card at the gym, who bags your groceries, who helped you at the hospital when you were sick. The men and women who keep our homes, and our countries, safe. "We have over 13,000 fans on our Facebook page," says Gee, "and we're hoping they'll all join us in baking 'virtually' together this month."

Amish friendship bread is about sharing what you have with others. It's about friendship and community.

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For the month of March, author Darien Gee and her Friendship Bread Kitchen are encouraging home bakers to dust off their aprons and spread a little love, Amish friendship bread-style.

“It’s called a ‘Bake and Take,’” explains Gee. “Individuals or groups get together, bake, and then share what they’ve made with others.”

Amish friendship bread is a cinnamon-sugar bread that’s similar to a quick bread, except that it’s made from a sourdough starter. This starter is usually passed from person to person—in the instructions a single starter can make up to four more starters—and is often considered a culinary “chain letter” by those familiar with it.

“I was suspicious at first,” Gee admits. Her daughter had brought it home from a friend’s house and Gee had initially told her they wouldn’t make the bread, but then tried a piece and changed her mind. “Lucky for me I did. I saw the main character for my novel, Friendship Bread, almost instantly, and started writing that night.”

Gee’s novel, which will be published next month by Ballantine Books (978-0-345-52534-5; $25), is about how a loaf of Amish friendship bread moves through a small town in Illinois, healing broken relationships and pulling a community together. Anticipation for the novel has already sparked Amish friendship bread baking and conversations everywhere. While working on her book, Gee started posting and sharing recipes online and her Facebook page already has over 13,000 fans since its inception last year.

Gee says she had been inspired to write about a Bake and Take in her book, but realized that there was a practical, every day need for it, too. Many of the people who frequent her Friendship Bread Kitchen website (http://www.friendshipbreadkitchen.com) and Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/fbkitchen) are often overwhelmed with all the extra starter they have on hand. Sharing it, Gee says, is the perfect solution.

“It proliferates very quickly,” she says with a laugh. “And people get tired of baking every ten days, which is what you have to do if you’re following the instructions. One solution is to refrigerate or freeze your starter, which slows down the fermenting process, and the other is to use it to bake, bake, bake!”

And that’s exactly what she’s asking people to do this March. “We’re asking people to bake to show their gratitude for someone in their life. The person who delivers your mail, who drives the carpool, who checks your membership card at the gym, who bags your groceries, who helped you at the hospital when you were sick. The men and women who keep our homes, and our countries, safe.” She lists other organizations, including senior centers and the local food bank.

A Bake and Take in March is perfect because no one is expecting a card or gift, Gee explains. “Homemade gifts are making a comeback. Baked goods keep well and are appreciated by everyone. Because it’s Amish friendship bread, too, you know it’s been cared for and passed among friends, families and neighbors.”

There’s no evidence that the recipe actually comes from the Amish but, as Gee points out, the intention behind the bread is undoubtedly Amish is nature. “It’s about sharing what you have with others,” she says. “It’s about friendship and community.”

According to Gee, Amish friendship bread is versatile because there are so many things you can make with it. “The rum raisin and carrot cake are my favorite,” she admits. “But the classic loaf, or original cinnamon-sugar recipe, is what got me hooked. I’ll never tire of it.” You can also make muffins, cupcakes, cookies, pancakes, waffles, even biscuits with the starter. Her website has over 50 variations, many developed by Gee.

The Bake and Take runs through March 31, 2011 and a winner will be selected from those who share their stories on the Friendship Bread Kitchen website. The winning prize is a Friendship Bread Kitchen Box that includes a mixing bowl, wooden spoon, muffin or cake tin, dishtowel or oven mitts, kitchen timer, measuring spoons or cups, magnet picture frame, a $25 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Williams-Sonoma, and an audio copy of Friendship Bread by Darien Gee.

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