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Prairie Fare: Sharing Friendship by the Slice

Friendship bread batter is a type of starter culture similar to the sourdough starters used by the pioneers of the Old West.

By Julie Garden Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

How would you like another mouth to feed in your house? You could think of it as a new pet, but it doesn’t bark or purr.

It’s alive, in the biological sense, and it grows when you feed it. You need to split it up and share some with your friends occasionally. If you don’t handle it right, it could become slimy and turn various colors.

Have you guessed what I’m talking about?

Yes, sharing friendship bread “starter” is popular again and the batter is traveling from home to home. Sometimes it’s called by other names, such as Amish bread or Herman.

Friendship bread batter is a type of starter culture similar to the sourdough starters used by the pioneers of the Old West. Back then, packets of yeast weren’t readily available at the grocery store. Pioneers relied on the microorganisms naturally present in the air and in the ingredients to make a bubbling starter culture used as the leavening agent in bread and cake.

To make the starter, they mixed water, flour and sometimes sugar and let the natural microorganisms in the air fall into the mixture. A bubbling mixture indicated that fermentation was occurring and lactic acid bacteria were flourishing.

Some starters were kept alive for years by “feeding” the starter. The mixture would continue to ferment, producing acids that provided the distinctive flavor and aroma of the baked products. The acidity also kept the mixture safe.

Sourdough bread and similar fermented products remain popular today. Many cookbooks have sections on sourdough cultures.

While foodborne illness outbreaks haven’t been directly linked to modern-day starters used in friendship bread, food safety experts advise asking questions and taking precautions when making and sharing these batters.

  • What’s in the starter? High-protein ingredients, such as eggs and milk, can support the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Some recipes call for raw (unpasteurized) milk, which is unsafe to consume. Unpasteurized milk contains a wide variety of microorganisms, many of which can cause serious illnesses. Eggs may contain bacteria, such as salmonella. Contaminated kitchen equipment or people could add some undesirable bacteria to the mixture, too. A starter containing water, flour, sugar and yeast is a safer option than using milk and “wild yeast.” You can use whole- wheat flour, rye flour, cultured buttermilk or yogurt with live cultures in sourdough starters, too.
  • Do the directions recommend keeping the batter refrigerated? Usually starters need two or three days at room temperature to get the fermentation process started, but after that, most food safety experts advise keeping the batter refrigerated. The culture still will grow, but more slowly. Starters can be frozen, too.
  • Does the batter have an acidic, “yeasty” aroma? That’s a good sign. If it smells bad, discard it.
  • Does the batter have orange or red spots or slime? If so, the batter is spoiled. Discard it carefully in a place where no humans or animals will come in contact with it.

People like to share things from their kitchen. Maybe you have a few over-ripe bananas on your counter. How about baking some banana bread and giving a loaf to your neighbor? Then they don’t have to feed a starter.

Banana Bread

3 large well-ripened bananas

1 egg

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1/3 c. milk

1/3 c. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 1/2 c. flour (To increase fiber, substitute half of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel and mash bananas. Place in mixing bowl. Add all the ingredients, except the flour. Slowly stir in the flour and mix until the flour is moistened. Spray or lightly grease a bread pan. Pour the batter into the bread pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean. Let bread cool for 5 minutes before removing it from the pan.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 26 g of carbohydrate and 1 g of fiber.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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