My Amish Friend Hermione

Many years ago my mother had a sourdough starter that she called “Herman.”  (I always thought that was just a name that she made up, but have since discovered on The Internets that this is the actual name of a starter).  She kept it in the refrigerator in a corningware blue flower container.  I remember enjoying the bread that she made from it, and helping her “feed” it.  Sometimes I would “babysit” Herman if she went out of town.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, when I’m looking at a local message board and see a post asking if anyone wants some “Amish Cinnamon Bread” starter.  Intrigued, and flooded with memories of my mother & Herman, I decide to try it out, and post that I’ll take some.  I did not personally know the gal who was offering the starter, and we messaged back and forth several times trying to figure out a time we could meet up.  Somehow or other, while I was at Ginny’s Upward indoor soccer practice one Saturday morning, I got a call on my cell phone that Starter Gal would be stopping by.  I stood outside, a vehicle pulled up with Starter Gal and her (I assume) husband in the front seat, two small children in the back.  “Are you Muggle Mom?”  they asked.  I nodded.  They handed me a large freezer bag containing the starter and a mimeographed (is that word still in use?) sheet of instructions.  As they drove off, I looked around to see if anyone was watching.  This felt like some sort of drug deal.

Then I got to thinking.  I didn’t know this gal from Adam.  What if there was something wrong or funky with the starter?  Odds were everything was fine, but still??  I decided that because I was baking the stuff, anything “bad” would get killed by the heat of the oven.  Plus, I was super curious to see how this all worked, and to taste the bread!  Of course my Muggle Man thought I was crazy but in his usual “I’m being a tolerant husband when it comes to your Internet stuff” manner he didn’t say much.

The bread turned out superyummy and I was hooked.  I had dutifully bagged extra starter to share, so, after printing out a much nicer looking set of instructions, I gave starter away to my dad, my sister-in-law, and some folks at church.  I even mailed some to online friends.  In a nod to my history with Mom’s starter I had named mine “Hermione.”  She was precious and I didn’t want to throw any of her out, but it was getting harder to give her away.  I now understood why Starter Gal had made the effort to track me down.    I had several bags of  starter that needed care and feeding, and I was also baking extra batches of bread (but my freezer was filling up quickly). 

And about that recipe.  It called for a good deal of sugar, along with a box of pudding mix.  I had been using whole wheat flour, or a mixture of regular & whole wheat, and substituting applesauce for oil, but was there anything else I could do to make the bread any healthier?  I searched online and found a recipe that did not call for the pudding mix.  In my research I also discovered that the starter could be frozen.  Bingo!  I started freezing those extra “giveaway” bags. 

Now I had new issues to deal with.  One, I had an increasingly large collection of frozen bags of starter in my freezer.  Two, my family seemed to have tired of the bread (or didn’t care for the healthier, less cake-like version as much, or both?) and wasn’t eating it.  So, I finally used up my starter on one last loaf and figured if I got a hankerin’ for bread bakin’ again, I’d reach into the freezer and try out that frozen Hermione.

I’ve since used the starter a couple of times, one-shot deals, and it did fine.  This past weekend when we were snowed in, my baking fingers got to itchin’.  I thawed out a bag but instead of baking loaves made muffins.  They were a big hit, especially the mini muffins.  I’ll definitely be doing that again.  Yesterday I tried a recipe for Applesauce Chocolate Chip cookies that called for the starter.  They turned out pretty well.  I took two bags from the freezer yesterday.  One I used for the recipe, the other, I sat on my counter for Day 1.  Hermione is back! 

I’ll continue to report on her progress as we move through the 10-day starter cycle.   Most of what I’ve read online said that the starter is good for 6 months, frozen.  This particular bag was frozen last January and thus is over a year old.  Will it still be OK?  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here’s a few links for more information:

Wikipedia entry on Amish Friendship Bread

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amish_Friendship_Bread

More info on Amish Friendship Bread & recipes using the starter

http://www.armchair.com/recipe/bake002.html

I’m using this procedure now, that keeps you from having leftover starter to giveaway/throw out/freeze

http://makeitfromscratch.blogspot.com/2009/01/take-control-of-your-amish-friendship.html

Please direct any comments to me via Twitter @realmugglemom