Edible Chain Letters
Posted by happygourmand
There are many traditions of food with friendship. In today’s age of emails and the Internet, it seems that recipes are shared via Pinterest boards and chat rooms more often than by handwritten recipe cards or passed-on magazine articles. Even recipes can go viral though, especially if there is a good story attached. Have you had one of those emails? Not the prince looking for money, the friend who says they are sharing a famous recipe! What foodie could resist such a claim? Not me 🙂
One email chain out there was for the infamous Neiman Marcus cookie: as the story goes a simple oatmeal chocolate chip cookie rose to fame because a woman who ordered the recipe for it after tasting it at a Neiman Marcus department store café was charged $250. As revenge, she sent the recipe to all of her friends. I think this was one of the first e-mails I ever received. This story has been around for a number of years and when I looked into it as an urban legend I discovered variations of it have been floating around for about 50 years, using different recipes and different companies. (There was one published in a cookbook in the 1950’s that told of someone being charged the exorbitant fee of $25 for a fudge cake recipe!) The attraction of course, is that we get to stick up for the little guy and manage to “stick it to the man” at the same time, not to mention eating cookies. The Neiman Marcus story is not true, by the way. There is a recipe though. If you’re interested, the Neiman Marcus cookie is not all that unique, but feel free to try a batch – you can eat for free nowadays.
I felt privileged when a person chose me as one of the friends who would receive this prized recipe. I became part of an inner circle, and then I could share the wealth with other friends too. It’s amazing that food can be a symbol of such status, even just with a recipe.
There is another chain, about a friendship cake. This too, is a long legend. It is a yeast bread recipe that takes 10 days to make, and then a loaf recipe is made with 1 of the 4 cups of the dough. You keep one cup of the “starter” aside and then pass along a cup to two friends, with the recipe for the cake. There are many variations on the history of it, but the one I liked the most was in the oft-used name of Amish Friendship Bread (this recipe tells how to make the starter and the loaf, with raisins and cinnamon). An elder and authority on Amish history was asked about the origin of this recipe and she replied that the tradition was simply to share bread or sourdough starter with those less fortunate or sick. It seems the idea of passing it to a friend simply to honour the friendship was just an extension of that gesture.
I know that many people in this day and age don’t have time 10 days in a row to make a sourdough starter. Many people don’t eat certain things so likely they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the cake recipe. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share. The fact that we take the time to send the e-mail says something, doesn’t it? People used to send “care packages” of food by snail mail but you can’t send food through the internet waves. I guess this is just the latest iteration of us trying to still be friends. You can live without friends, but who would want to? One of my favourite childhood authors said it best:
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather is one of those things that give value to survival.
– C. S. Lewis
Whether you use one of these edible chain letters or you just drop by with a bit of something, I think the gesture of sharing something homemade does retain a certain special quality. Friendship is about sharing; it is a necessary ingredient in the recipe of life. (The best part is, your friends will still sit by you, even if what you cook is not that great!)
About happygourmandI am a professional gourmande - a lover of life. Not only food and drink, but life in general. I love experiencing life to its fullest, and I love sharing my adventures with others.
Posted on June 3, 2016, in food, history, recipe, reference and tagged Amish friendship bread, bread, chain letter, comfort food, cookies, food, foodie, friendship, Neiman Marcus cookie, recipe, sourdough starter, tradition. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.