"I have a question to ask you," my friend told me over the phone. She sounded a little nervous, and I wondered what in the world she could want. "Would you be interested in taking an Amish bread starter?" Really, that was it? A bread starter? That sounded pretty harmless. "It's okay if you say no, it's kind of a pain. You have to do a lot of stuff to keep it going, but it makes really good bread," she added hopefully. "Well... that's really not my sort of thing," I replied. "I don't bake much..." "Oh, that's okay," she said, "If you don't want it, I'll just throw it away." I buckled. "No, no! If it's between giving it to me or throwing it away, then by all means give it to me. I'll try it." After all, I'm pro-life and live active yeasts are God's children, too. An hour later there was a knock on the door and there was my friend, with a loaf of cinnamon bread in one hand and I bag of goop in the other. "Here's some bread I made you and here is the starter and the instructions. You're on day three. Good luck," she added as she rushed out the door. That was five weeks ago. Since then I have made 14 loaves of bread. There are 20 starters on my kitchen counter. They will make 40 more loaves of bread and spawn 80 more starters.
For the first few days all I had to do was mush up the goop in the bag. That wasn't so bad. On day six I had to feed my new pet flour, sugar and milk. Again, not too bad. Then I took a look at the calendar and realized day ten, which was my day to bake, fell on Christmas day. This meant I had to take the starter on the 561 mile trip to Ohio for Christmas. My mother made me put my pet starter in the garage while I was home. She was grossed out by the fact that it's original origins were unknown and that it's been passed on by God knows how many strangers before it reached me. According to her, it was just plain unsanitary. Christmas day dawned and I was too busy to think about my starter. It spent the day alone in the garage. I planned on baking the bread for breakfast the next day, but I woke up with a post-Christmas hangover and again, the starter was neglected. I finally got around to tending to my pet later that afternoon. After dividing it into four more starters, I got down to the business of fulfilling the starter's destiny and actually making the damn Amish Cinnamon Bread. Unfortunately, it was delicious.
Now I had four more starters. My mother wanted nothing to do with the starter, so giving one to her was out of the question. My sister told me "Get that thing away from me," when I approached her with a bag. I was finally able to pawn two of the starters off on my aunt and my grandmother. My grandmother looked doubtful, but my aunt named hers Herman and happily took it away. As the days went by she sent me photographic updates of Herman's progress, like when he filled the bag with gas from the yeast for the first time. It was like keeping in touch with a child I had given up for adoption.
I wasn't able to get rid of the other two, and I still couldn't throw God's active yeasts in the garbage (especially since they were so delicious), so two of my original starter's offspring made the 561 mile trip back to North Carolina with me. Now I had twins that needed tending to. They were hungry and starting to become annoying. It was like having infants. I let the gas out of their bags daily, mushed them, and fed them on day six. On day ten my babies made four loaves of cinnamon bread and eight more starters. I gave one to my neighbor, whose New Year's resolution is to start cooking more this year. The other friend I was going dump one on was still out of town, so I was left with seven gassy Amish bread starters to feed. They were taking over my counter--and my life. I couldn't get rid of them and I couldn't throw them away. It was like a nightmare. An Amish nightmare. Finally my friend Sarah met me for coffee and I handed off a half a loaf of cinnamon bread and it's starter spawn. I was down to six bread starters. Four days into the new cycle one of the bags of starters exploded and oozed goop all over the counter. It had happened overnight, and by the time I found it the starter had coated the bags of its brothers and congealed under my mixer. This was the stuff of horror movies, if only the Amish watched such things. Now I had to not only degas and mush my infants, I had to give them a bath as well.
Yesterday was day ten again, and I was like a mad scientist experimenting on poor, defenseless yeasts. Some loaves were fed the overly ripe bananas on the counter that I had to get rid of before they walked themselves to the compost pile, some were given the zucchini that had been in the fridge all week. I had five starters to mess with, so I started going through the fridge. Freezer burnt blueberries? Of course! Leftover meatloaf? Why not?! Half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Throw it in there!
Tomorrow my kids' teachers will be getting Amish bread starters, as will the children in their classes. I'm putting one in the mail box for the mail lady. I'm going to try to pay for my coffee with a bread starter. The garbage man? Bread starter. The sixteen year old babysitter? Bread starter. The Jehovah's Witnesses who are always knocking on my door? Bread starter.
I'm going to start ringing doorbells and running.
"Who is it? Judas Priest, Barbara, it's one of those flaming bags again! Wait, it's not a bag of poo--it's an Amish bread starter! Call the police department, this one's out of control!"
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