Saturday, May 28, 2011

Friendship Bread by Darien Gee

Take one grieving mother (Julia Evans), an about-to-be divorced concert cellist (Hannah Wang de Brisay), a widow who just started a tea room (Madeline Davis), add a bag of Amish friendship bread starter, some good small town Illinois atmosphere and you've got a yeasty sugary/spicy novel named Friendship Bread (Ballantine, 2011) by Darian Gee. Add in access to all sorts of friendship bread recipes on the official Friendship Bread website, and you've got a phenomenon!

This novel falls into the cozy women's fiction niche that I so enjoy in between other more literary or genre-busting novels. For me, one of the most important appeal factors in fiction is characters I can care about, worry over and sit with in times of trouble. This novel provides that: all the main characters have their issues and problems, and somehow through the sharing of a bread starter and a few cups of tea, connections are made and new friendships born. Who can argue with that?

When I first started working at HCPL/West University Library in the early 1980s, my coworkers were into sharing a sourdough starter they named Herman. They passed around bags of dough, and for reasons I can't recall (perhaps my hectic big city social life), I never accepted the offer of a bag of Herman to take home. Prior to my professional career in librarianship, I was involved in an upstate NY back-to-the-land lifestyle that involved plenty of bread baking (on wood stoves, no less). Maybe I was taking a break from baking after I moved to Houston. Now I love to bake, and later today will be making a strawberry rhubarb crumble to take to a family gathering this weekend. Although recipes are included in the Friendship Bread book, I'm not sure I will ever get into the project because of the rapidly-multiplying starter factor much exemplified in the novel.

Also, most of the recipes seem to involve the eventual addition of Jello pudding mix. I'm sure these recipes result in some unique and tasty sweet breads, but somehow the use of Jello doesn't sound very Amish, does it? However, I will be reaching for Gee's next novel in this new series, which I learned she is busy writing. For a first novel, it looks like she is having incredible success, and I'm curious to see how the recipe evolves in the next installation. Bon appetit!

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