Thursday, December 3, 2009

Amish Friendship Cake, Surprise Version


As it is with writing, often it’s the surprise of a new, accidental combination rather than the recipe that counts. I don’t know how to make Amish friendship cake; that particular recipe was passed along to us from my wife’s friend, and my wife tends to its culture. The cake is the product of a ten-day process, during which she feeds the starter at regular intervals with flour and sugar, and roughs it up in its plastic bag in between. The mixture grows and grows; the bag threatens to explode; finally the day comes for baking in loaf pans, and a little of the starter is saved for the next go-around.

The first change she made to the recipe was to add blueberries. Superb. Then she tried blackberries. Again, superb. Strawberries, as expected, were terrible. They were too sweet for the sour mixture for one thing, and for another they broke down and spread throughout the cake, leaving it somewhat wet and mushy.

These days, after I shower in the morning, I make some chamomile tea, and while that’s steeping I eat a piece of friendship cake. I put it in a cereal bowl and top it with fresh homemade madzoon. After I finish my treat, I drink the tea at my desk and get back to work. And that is exactly how this piece is being written.

This morning, though, was the scene of the latest surprise. When my brother and his wife visited us recently from Armenia, they brought with them a beautiful pomegranate. Yesterday evening my wife and I broke it open. The seeds were so good, I practically wept. I didn’t think of it then, but about half an hour ago when I was preparing my snack I suddenly realized that they would also go with the cake, blueberries, and madzoon. So I put some in. And I was right — the flavor was incredible, no less than a symphony on my tongue.

And yes, I am quite emotional when it comes to pomegranates. They are so beautiful, and there are so many memories associated with them, of fathers and grandfathers and Old World dreams. I could never feel that way about a banana. My mother never made banana jelly. But her pomegranate jelly, and the way the sun shone through it on the Sunday morning breakfast table, was an experience divine.

When my brother and I visited Armenia in 1982, the first person we met was eating a pomegranate. He smiled, and offered us some seeds.


Updates:
“Amish Friendship Cake, Surprise Version” added to Let’s Eat. (Past food entries archived here.)

In the Forum: an amazing archeological find.

8 comments:

awyn said...

How did you brother smuggle the pomegranate from Armenia into the US? The guards at the Canadian border wouldn't even let me bring an apple into Vermont from 1 mile across the fields in Quebec, ha ha. As for yogourt, oops I mean madzoon, once you taste the homemade version, the store-bought kind never tastes as good again as you once thought it did. And you're absolutely right, William, you don't need any fancy electric warmers or special equipment. (I use goat milk and it's amazing; people who would never drink the milk absolutely love the yogourt (excuse me, madzoon) made from it. Go figure.

William Michaelian said...

We had a couple of goats for awhile back in the early Eighties when we lived on the farm, before we moved to Oregon. They were delightful animals. They shared a pen with a few red hens, and at nightfall they’d all snuggle up together in the corner. One goat liked to go with us on walks, no leash necessary. Two sisters: Anoush and Aboush, which, in Armenian, means Sweet and Dumb. My wife handled the milking chores. We never did make — ahem — madzoon, as the family made such quick work of the milk, which was really good.

I didn’t even ask how they got the pomegranate in. Every visit, they manage to bring something. I’m just now finishing the string cheese.

Cioara Andrei said...

Foarte interesant subiectul postat de tine. M-am uitat pe blogul tau si imi place ce am vazut.Cu siguranta am sa il mai vizitez.
O zi buna!

William Michaelian said...

Say, that’s exactly what you said last time. Still having fun pressing the “Next Blog” button, eh? Well, I do it myself now and then. Thanks! See you next time!

Elisabeth said...

You have brought these foods alive for me here, William, especially the pomegranate and the memories.

I think Armenia and I think of genocide, but you have brought other sides alive for me.

The life that never dies.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks, Elisabeth. Indeed, these things are inextricably intertwined.

ALeks said...

Oh,I love pomegranate,I managed to grow a little wood of pomegranate for my balkony,just they need to survive (as I do)between gray,dark weather days of Holland.I do hope for us to make to the spring.Lovely writing William,whish you and yours all the best,
Aleksandra

William Michaelian said...

And my best to you. I’m sure the fire in you will help you both survive.