I’m at risk of repeating myself here, but I love novels with recipes. Preferably recipes for cakes, biscuits and confectionery, but bread is good too.
The novel, Friendship Bread, by Darien Gee, uses the circulation of a starter (fermented ingredients) for Amish Friendship Bread as a plot device to bring the characters together and to make things happen. At the end of the book, there is a recipe and directions for the starter, as well as a whole lot of bread and other recipes which can be made using the starter.
The first bag of starter in the town of Avalon in the USA mysteriously appears on the doorstep of a main character, along with a plate of Amish Friendship Bread, and the recipe and instructions for how to care for the starter. The recipient, Julia Evarts, is convinced by her five year old daughter Gracie to feed the starter so they can bake their own bread in ten days time, which they do. On day ten they also have three additional bags of starter.
Julia has been grieving for her son Josh, who died from a wasp sting while in the care of her sister Livvie for five years. Since then, Julia has refused to see or forgive Livvie. Julia has also pushed her husband Mark away, to the point where Mark could be tempted into an affair with a workmate.
By chance, Julia visits Madeline’s Tea Salon and meets Madeline, a grieving widow. She also meets Hannah, another customer to the Tea Salon, who has recently moved to Avalon. Hannah is a world-famous cellist who is struggling with the break up of her marriage to another famous musician. Before the women part ways on their first meeting, Julia gives Madeline and Hannah a bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter each along with the instructions and the recipe, which sets off the baking epidemic in Avalon.
Before long Avalon is over-ran with Amish Friendship Bread starter. Some people furiously curse anyone who tries to give them some starter, but other happy bakers form a club to swap recipes to use the starter in (if I lived in Avalon I would probably join the club, but I wouldn’t use anyone else’s starter. You don’t know how clean their kitchens are). When a journalist writes a local interest story for a newspaper identifying Julia as the first person to pass on the starter, she is swamped by bags of starter anonymously dumped on her doorstep by the Amish Friendship Bread haters.
Luckily, (for the plot, I mean, not so much for the fictional characters), the flood of a neighbouring town brings the people of Avalon together, and using their surplus starters the Avalonians bake over 7000 loaves of Amish Friendship Bread in a single night to feed the victims of the flood. (Loaves and fishes?)
The events caused by the spreading of the starter force the main character’s issues to come to a head, namely Julia’s isolation from her husband and family, Hannah’s attitude towards her marriage break down and Madeline’s broken connection with her former step-son. Along the way, the three women form a strong friendship.
Friendship Bread is a feel-good novel, although I don’t feel the urge to begin a starter of my own to bake some bread. I’ve still got all of the ingredients in the pantry from when I read How To Bake A Perfect Life by Barbara O’Neal and decided to make Sunshine Fruit and Honey Bread. (I still plan to make the bread, I just haven’t got around to it). Regardless, I really enjoyed the feeling of hope and optimism that this novel left me with.