Thursday, August 30, 2012

We Thought He Was Gone.....

In the late 70’s, Herman arrived in Santa Cruz.  He was fun.  We shared his company.  He attended parties and family functions.  But frankly, after a while we just wished he would die.  

Herman was a sweet sourdough started introduced to us by Barbara Burklo, late food editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel.  The process involved making this simple starter, feeding the starter and stirring daily.  After ten days, you would bake one of a selection of recipes including pancakes and coffee cake using a fourth of the starter.  You would divide the remaining starter, keeping a cup and sharing the other two portions with friends, who would then be expected to feed, bake and share with THEIR friends - a baking pyramid of cosmic proportions.  At first, it was GREAT.  Cinnamon rolls, and coffee cake, and pancakes and can see where this is going.  After a while, every baking friend you knew had Herman stewing in a bowl in the frig and most all were fed up with Herman.  You would jump at the opportunity to bake a double batch of something Herman for a potluck only to find Herman was the main selection on the banquet. Herman became the zucchini of the baking world.  Eventually,  people would just “forget” to feed the starter and “accidentally” kill Herman.  Others would, in a mad fury of baking, use all of their starter and be done with it.

Fast forward twenty years.  We were living in Minden, NV when a teacher gave me, as an appreciation gift, a starter for Amish Friendship Bread, white goo in a ziploc baggie.  Directions had you leave it sitting on the counter, squooshing it each day in lieu of stirring, feed it after ten days and divide it into bags to be presented to friends.  My initial problem was having few friends that baked so no one wanted my ‘gift’.  The bigger problem was the attached tea bread recipe - it required a box of instant pudding.  Even then, I was not a fan of eating packages of mysterious ingredients so the thought of lovingly tending to starter only to contaminate it with a box of instant pudding was well, off-putting.  I went looking for an alternative recipe.  It took a while but I persevered and found a recipe using the starter that contained only recognizable ingredients.  And when I found it, it was named “Herman”.  Really?  It’s just Herman?  Two decades pass and I am once again dealing with Herman?

Prior to receiving the Amish Herman,  I had mixed up a standard sourdough starter with my Girl Scout troop as we worked on the Folk Arts Badge.  This was in 1992 and  It was shoved to the back of my frig between uses -  I reasoned  that anything able to survive in the saddlebag of a crusty miner, would certainly survive in a chilled box.  Once I realized that Herman was apparently Amish, I decided he could survive in my frig as the other starter had done.  Then I decided that one jar was enough and dumped them all together - cohabitate successfully or die!  

We moved from Nevada in 1995 and Herman came along. That’s right, I have something in my refrigerator that we actually consume that is nearly twenty years old.  And I will tell you that he packs a kick!  Those starters are not frail.  They do not need to be coddled or used up quickly. They apparently can be stored indefinitely with the right care.  With no kids at home, I don’t bake as often as I used to but, when I decided to take Herm for a spin, I just feed him, stir him down and back in the frig he goes.  I’ve offered to share but, even after enjoying a taste of coffee cake or other succulent offering, no takers.  One co-worker is still repulsed by the fact that I have kept something that old in my refrigerator.  And EAT it.

Now, more than twenty years after “Amish Friendship Bread” came into my life in the form of a pasty white mass in a plastic bag, Herman is still residing in a plastic jar in the back of my frig. To be honest, I’m not happy about the plastic but frankly, Herman gets a bit....gassy and at least the plastic can expand under pressure.  I don’t want to think about a glass jar exploding in the frig, not to mention the loss of Herman who has become a part of the family.  Occasional pancakes, biscuits, cinnamon roles and the subsequent rejuvenating feeding keep Herman happy.

Is the current resurgence of homesteading and scratch baking and preserving a sign that it’s time for another run at this starter?  I have a Herman Cookbook that is out of print and in these days of online recipe forums, have found a number of postings about Herman/Amish Friendship bread.  There are even people who cryogenically store Herman in the freezer then reanimate him when needed.  I couldn't take the  chance but you can.  

If you decide to try it, just be assured that he saves well.  Search "Herman" or "Amish Friendship Bread" and you'll find all sorts of recipes.  Ask me nice, and I might, to use the local vernacular,  offer a clone from this kicky little mass I have.  Come know you want to.


Kym said...

That was an extremely well written piece that made me grin for the entire time I read it! No clones for me. I've already had my own Herman and he made my thighs fat so I killed him.

Fred Mangels said...

Back in the late 70s I got into sourdough. I either bought, or someone gave me, a ceramic jar made for sourdough starter. It was maybe 5" in diameter. Same height, with a metal holder that held the lid in place under some pressure. The jar even said "Sourdough" on the outside.

I forget exactly how it went but you basically made sourdough bread, saved just a little bit of the dough and threw it into the jar for storage. No refrigeration necessary, as I recall, or maybe I was told wrong? I just kept it on the counter top or a cupboard.

I used that for some time but anything I made with it seemed a bit more sour than I cared for over time. Maybe it went bad? Eventually I got rid of it, probably by not saving any when I made my last batch of bread with it.