by Sarah Smiley
A few weeks ago, a friend knocked on my door and handed me a ziplock bag filled with goo. Attached to the bag was a printout titled “Amish Friendship Bread.”
“You just feed this batter and then cook it to make bread,” the friend said.
It sounded easy enough. And with a name like “Amish Friendship Bread,” how could it be anything but? For the first few days, the goo-filled bag sat innocently enough on my kitchen counter. The batter in the bottom filled only about one-eighth of the bag. I wondered how such a tiny amount of batter would ever make two loves of bread, plus four more bags of goo, as the instructions said it would.
On the fourth day, I added milk, sugar and flour to the batter.
“Are you sure I still leave this thing out on the counter?” I asked my friend. “Even though it has milk in it now?”
“Yep,” she said, a tinge of delight in her voice, as if she was keeping a secret, like waiting for me to sit on a whoopee cushion.
The day after I added milk, sugar and flour, and continued to leave the bag on the kitchen counter, despite my better judgment and my mother’s voice in the my head telling me to always put the milk back in the refrigerator, I woke to the smell of beer. Fermented beer. In the kitchen, the goo was growing. The ziplock bag was so full of air, it looked as bloated and gassy as my stomach feels after Thanksgiving dinner. Overnight, the batter had doubled in size. Or, if you’d rather, it had procreated.
“It’s like a beast,” I said out loud. My children looked scared.
“Stop feeding it,” Owen, 5, said.
“We don’t really need bread, do we?” asked Ford, 7.
I let air out of the bag and reassured the children that the batter would not take over our house, even though I wasn’t entirely sure of that myself. I was beginning to see how the “beast” would eventually make two loaves of bread and four extra bags of beastlings.
The instructions warned that after making the bread, if you failed to keep a beastling for yourself, you would have to wait for a friend to give one back to you, because “only the Amish know how to make the starter.” This seemed like a vague threat to me. The beast--I mean, batter--had been passed down from neighbor to neighbor for hundreds of years. If I broke the chain, I feared that something awful--something like receiving the Amish Unfriendly Bread next time--would happen.
By the end of the week, I found myself very afraid of the growing batter on my kitchen counter. I eyed it when I walked into the room, and I never turned my back on it. Like a dragon curled up next to my coffee pot, the bag spit out air, hissed, and made bad smells. I wasn’t sure I wanted to make bread with it.
Finally the day came when I could unleash the beast and add normal things like eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon to it, which I hoped would mask the smell. When I was done baking, I had two delicious loaves of bread and four bags of beastlings to disperse. It occurred to me then that if the Amish ever wanted to kill off an entire species of non-Amish people slowly over time, they could probably do it with this never-ending bread that people willingly--gleefully, even--pass on to their neighbors, four at a time.
My husband, Dustin, a Navy pilot, took the extra bags of batter and one loaf of bread to the squadron and dared people to take it home to their wives. I suspect it was one of the first (and last) times something Amish came onto a Navy base. If the batter could speak, which over time it may learn to do, I think it would have protested and called itself a Conscientious Objector.
Kathy, who works in the same office with Dustin, was up for the challenge and took a beastling home. Over the next week, I received several panicked calls from her. “Are you sure I leave it on the counter? Will it explode? Is it supposed to smell like this?”
The cycle continued, as the Amish have intended it to do for hundreds of years.
Yesterday I got another call from Kathy. She had made the bread, produced four beastlings, and sent one to her military-spouse daughter in North Carolina, who, like so many before her, was afraid at first, but carried on and made the bread anyway. She sent a loaf to her husband in Afghanistan and passed four bags of goo on to her military-spouse friends.
Which is to say, the batter continues to grow and reproduce, and now it has infiltrated the military. Don’t open your door; you could be next.