Friendship Bread Givers: You Ain't No Friends of Mine
On Joe Jackson’s debut album, he scoffs at couples who make finding love look easy, because he knows it to be a painful, confidence-shattering process. He sings over and over at the song’s end, “You ain’t no friends of mine.” I’d like to borrow this sentiment and extend the ridicule to all those who gleefully hand out practically empty Ziplock bags to friends and say in a sweet and giving voice, “Here’s a homemaking kit of Amish friendship bread!” They say it as if they’re the kindest, most warm-hearted individuals on the planet, but the truth is out and it’s beginning to spread: these are actually mean-spirited people who exult in the false hopes and misfortunes of others.
I recently had the honor of receiving the “Friendship Treatment” from Jan, who en route to her yoga class had stopped by to offer me a bag filled with a thick, beige liquid along with a printout of instructions. “It’s a ten-day process, and we’re already on day four, so enjoy!” she said, practically skipping back to her van, certain that she’d helped to spread a little sunshine in my dim world, and I admit that initially I was flattered: someone had made bread for me! How thoughtful. How quaint. Sure, I bake my own bread every Friday, but this was from a friend (or so I thought) and it involved a process invented by Amish people whose women all like Kelly McGillis and who want nothing but peace, love and understanding. What could be wrong with that?
For those who haven’t been indoctrinated into the world of Amish friendship bread, let me explain: the process is basically a pyramid scheme without the financial liabilities. You start with a few ingredients and mix them in a Ziplock bag. For the next ten days, you squeeze the bag once a day and add a few ingredients on day six. Along the way, the concoction ferments and the bag expands. It’s kind of a cool process, provoking the same scientific fascination one might get from brewing beer at home.
On day ten, you add more ingredients and divide the mix into four different containers. One of these will result in two loaves of bread for yourself. The other three are to be distributed to three friends who will repeat the process, and so on, until every man, woman and child on a planet of six billion has prepared, baked and eaten two yummy loaves of bread. I have no idea why this process is considered Amish, except that it doesn’t entail any refrigeration or mechanical devices (but what bread-baking process does, unless you’ve continued to use the bread machine you received as a wedding gift back in the 90s?).
So fine, the whole idea is nice, and my children enjoyed squeezing the bag each day, and I had no trouble adding milk, flour and sugar on day six. So far so good. It wasn’t until day ten that I realized just what a scam this bread-making business is. I learned that none of the previous nine days had been necessary at all, because I now had to empty practically every bag, box and bottle in my cupboard to finish the process.
Here is the list of ingredients I needed to add on day ten:
Instant vanilla pudding mix
I’m serious. Someone had handed me a Ziplock bag and all I needed to do to bake two loaves of bread was add enough ingredients to feed the entire Amish population nationwide. I’d basically fallen for the Amish version of the story, “Stone Soup,” in which a man tricks a community to cook a big vat of soup by asking each citizen to add his or her own ingredient, except I happened to be a community of one in this version of the story. I have half a mind to give my friend a Ziplock bag filled with water and say, “Here’s a bag of Amish Friendship Soup. Enjoy!”
So please, no offense to the Amish, or the idea of friendship or the makers of Jello-brand instant vanilla pudding, but I’ll pass on this charming and sadistic tradition in the future. You want to be a friend? Bring a six-pack of Guinness over sometime, and if you really must include something baked, offer me your thoughts on achieving world peace.