The holiday season is a time when the exchanging of parcels and treats is a part of many family’s traditions.
I wrote last week about the recipes I shared with my girlfriend from halfway around the world. There are also more random kinds of sharing that occur where food is still the favourite means of connecting.
Have you ever heard of a chain letter? These were letters you sent to multiple people, and they would send it to more people and…you get the idea. Then, more recently, before social media sent stories instantly around the globe, we used to get news that friends and family would send along via email. Chain emails became the new version of this urban gossip.
The most infamous “food chain” email was the one about the Neiman Marcus cookie.
According to the legend, a simple oatmeal chocolate chip cookie rose to fame because a woman who ordered the recipe for it was charged $250. She tasted it at the café in the Dallas Neiman Marcus department store and thought the server meant $2.50 when she said the cost of the recipe.
As revenge, the woman sent the recipe to all of her friends. I think this was one of the first e-mails I received on my first Apple computer.
Way back then, I felt privileged that the person chose me as one of the friends who would receive the prized cookie recipe. I became part of an inner circle and 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.
The Neiman Marcus cookie story was around for many years and when I did some research, I discovered similar urban myths 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. One attraction to these urban legends is that we get to support the maligned individual and manage to “stick it to the man” at the same time. Neiman Marcus finally released their own version of the cookie recipe publicly in 1997, being sure to tell people it was available for free. That was when it dropped off in popularity.
Another old tradition for sharing a cherished food recipe is friendship cake. This too is a long legend. It is a yeast bread recipe that takes 10 days to make, and then a cake is to be made with 1 of the 4 cups of the bread dough. You keep one cup aside to retain some of the “starter” and then pass along a cup to two friends, with the recipe for the cake.
There are many variations on the history of friendship cakes, but the one I liked the most was in the oft-used name of Amish Friendship Bread (this is the link I included).
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. We proved that during lockdowns. Many people follow gluten free diets and have other food allergies, so they likely they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the cake. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share.
One of my favourite childhood authors, C. S. Lewis, 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."
Friendship is about sharing. It is a necessary ingredient in the recipe of life.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.