Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reflections on (a million) bread starters

Wow, the tale of my Amish Nightmare has caused quite a few responses--some contemplative, some slightly morbid.
Sarah has really chewed over the phenomena of the bread starter and has come up with some brilliant theories. Allow me to share:

Amish Bread and the Devil's Mathematics

There is a sequence of numbers called a Fibonacci Sequence.
In the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, each number is the sum of the previous two numbers. Thus the sequence begins 0,1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, etc.
The higher up in the sequence, the closer two consecutive "Fibonacci numbers" of the sequence divided by each other will approach the "golden ratio" (approximately 1 : 1.618 or 0.618 : 1)
The golden ratio was supposed to be the perfect/divine ratio that brings us closer to God.

Do you think Amish bread follows its own "divine sequence"? Start with one starter, then 4, then 16, etc and end up with 6 billion, etc? Does Amish bread bring us closer to God? Or perhaps is it, in numerical (and yeast-ical form) the Devil's Sequence?. This would be defined as one that rapidly approaches infinity and may in fact get there while using up all the sugar and enslaving one to one's kitchen and to the Ziplock Company.

I am quitting job tonight and pursing this as PH-D dissertation study. Of course, do not have Masters, so this may be slight stumbling block. Perhaps all will finally realize brilliance and just give me the damn degree. Perhaps they will give it to me just to stop handing out starter.

As it turns out, not everyone who was gifted the spawn of a starter put as much thought into it. For the most part, those upon whom the starter was bestowed turned out to be bad bread mommies and daddies. There are a lot of dead starters out there, most of whom have met their end through either gross negligence or straight out yeastslaughter. Here are some of the tales of how these poor starters met, or will soon meet, their end.

Auntie Buzz's Story: Startercide
My aunt was the first to get a starter. For a while she sent me photos of the starter's progress, and on Day 10 I got a picture of two beautiful loaves of bread. I thought she would be a good Starter Mommy--she seemed so in to it. And then this comment appeared on my last post:
The starter started to get ahead of me! And, sadly, reluctantly, I admit, that my prolific run has tragically come to an end. I committed "startercide!!!!" My 3 starters- in the garbage. I turn myself in-I am an unfit "startermom." I just couldn't take the pressure- I'll be in therapy on Monday...
My grandmother received a starter at the same time as my aunt. I have never heard from that starter again.

Jody's Story: It was too delicious for its own good
My neighbor made the mistake of telling me her New Year's resolution was to start cooking more, so I decided she was a prime candidate for a starter. I asked her if she had an extra bread pan so I could send some of the bread over with the starter, and she wasn't sure because didn't know exactly what a bread pan looked like. This didn't bode well for my starter. Jody was one of the few people who actually did see it through to the bread making stage, though. On day 10 I found a small foil wrapped package on my step--inside was a piece of the Amish bread my neighbor had made. I thought my starter was in good hands, after all. The next day I received a voice mail. It was my neighbor, telling me that she had to get rid of her starter's babies because she had eaten both loaves of bread by herself and feared she wouldn't be able to stop herself from a repeat performance when it was time to bake again.

Sarah's Story: Prodigy
Sarah was another recipient of a starter from one of the early rounds. Of all of the participants of this little nightmare, she lasted the longest and took hers the farthest. Here is an email from early on:
I am supremely unpopular due to large amounts of starter handed out among friends who now hide from me. However, on a braggy note, my starter can walk and has already run hid between the counter and fridge and under the draining board. We are proud. Harvard application for starter pending.

Sarah's 2nd Story: Starter on the loose
That starter never did make it to college, though. A few days later I was notified of its progress:
I just wanted to tell you vis-a-vis the Amish Starter situation there is one alarming story:
I sent 2 starters to school with -anonymous oldest child- as -said child's anonymous teacher- wanted one and so did one of the other moms. I did car line and didn't pick up --child-- until 1 pm due to lunch bunch. She was under instructions to give one to -teacher- and one to the other boy. -Teacher- got hers. Other mom did not. This leaves us with an alarming conclusion. Starter ran away. Has gone into hiding and is starting support-group style commune for starters that were neglected and/or abused. I am prime revenge target due to severe over-mashing of bags as was a bit stressed about work this week. The starters are out there. They may truly rise and take over world.
Last seen, starter was capable of walking, hiding and encouraging fellow yeast-beasties to revolt out of Ziploc jails and spurt selves in desperate attempt at freedom across just-chloroxed counter, thus immediately committing yeast equivalent of hari-kari. (To the breach yeasts, or die trying!!) No doubt, now nearly a week later, starter is capable of communication and advanced mathematics. Probably has guest spot on "Oprah and Friends" on Sirus/XM satellite radio.
If at the very least it just fell out of the bag, where the hell did it end up? And can you imagine how bad it smells? However, no doubt it can be "refreshed" with some milk and a cup of self-raising flour. After all, baking soda gets out the smell!!

Kelly's Story: Getting over the past
Kelly thought she had dodged the starter by being out of town. What she hadn't planned on though (and neither had I) was the third generation of starters I was now handing out. Sucker! Kelly had already confessed to her dark past of starter-killing, but said she was willing to give it another try. Today is day 10 for Kelly which means time to bake. As of yesterday she claimed the starter was alive (if not well), but would not put it on the phone when I asked to talk to it. Supposedly, it was "indisposed." Mighty suspicious, if you ask me... I am waiting to taste the evidence.

Nick's Story: Damn it!
A comment left on my last post:
I noticed a starter on my freakin' counter! Sneaky, my friend, very sneaky...I wonder if koi would make a delicious bread...
(It is important to note here that I am horrified by the presence of koi in the world.)

Ella's teacher's Story: One eyebrow raised
Of all of the people upon whom I have forced a starter, it was Ella's teacher who resisted the most. "Do I really have to take that thing?" she asked, with one eyebrow raised. "Can't you just give it to someone else?" she asked as she tried to close the door on me. When I informed her she had no say in the matter she put me in detention and slapped the starter with a ruler.

My Psychiatrist's Story: The cold shoulder
An email from my psychiatrist:
Unfortunately my own starter bit the dust (and I do NOT need a replacement!). I took it home, but since I was going out of town the next day and did not have any instructions, I put it in the refrigerator for when I got home. Now that I have the directions, and have violated the first rule (do not refrigerate) I will give it a proper burial and build a snowman for a marker!
I left a starter in her assistant's mailbox that same day. I have not heard from that starter, but fear for its well-being. Apparently, the quest for mental wellness does not apply to yeast.

The girl down the street's story: She just kept running
"Hey, wait up! I have a bread starter for you," I yelled to the girl a few doors down as she finished up her morning run. Perhaps she just didn't hear me, but I could swear I saw her pick up the pace as she sprinted the last 100 meters home...

Rob's Story: About that...
My friend Rob came over for dinner a couple of nights ago. He claimed to not want a starter, but while he was talking to my husband I took the liberty of putting one on the hood of his BMW anyway. I knew in his heart he wanted it. A few days later I texted him. Me: How's the starter doing? Rob: Yeah, about that... Me: You mean it's thriving? Rob: Yes. In heaven.

There are others who have been given starters along the way but who could not be reached for comment. They have all moved out of town and left no forwarding address.

Keri's Story: Full Circle
Keri was who gave me the starter to begin with, thus setting in motion the series of events that became an Amish nightmare. When I rang Keri's doorbell this morning and handed her the last bag of starter, all she could do was laugh. After traveling over 1000 miles and producing over 40 loaves of bread (and counting), her starter had finally come back to her.

It really speaks to the sick nature of my readers that some of you have actually asked for the starter recipe. I mean, come on!!! Have you people not heard a word I've said here? Is there not enough horror in the world that you have to actually create a little more?
But who am I to deny the public what they want? If you really do want to punish yourself and alienate your friends, I've posted a recipe for creating Amish Bread Starter as well as the directions for morphing it into bread. Good Luck to you. If you make it, send me your stories but not your starter. I now have a restraining order out against active live yeasts of Amish descent.


  1. Oh no you don't!!! After I bake this thing it will come full circle back to you my dear ;-) And has anyone ever thought - if you don't want to hand out the starter, just bake all the loaves? Then give the delicious bread away...or freeze it. Is that bad??

  2. What a riot...the stories just got funnier and funnier..what a great read with my morning coffee!! Keep'm comin...AK