Linda Carlson Schmidt found Herman in the newspaper on Oct. 25, 1980.
She and Milt were practically newlyweds. He worked at Goodyear, she ran a small town bank.
And she baked.
She also read Kitchen Barter in the Journal Star, the weekly forum for readers to share recipes and seek help finding more — Does anyone have the recipe for Tony & Luigi’s dip? Tastee’s onion chips? Valentino’s sauce?
On this day, most of the page was devoted to a sourdough “starter” for making breads and rolls, cookies and cakes that, if tended properly and kept at the right temperature, would feed its owner forever.
There were all sorts of recipes for Herman, the baking fad everyone was talking about.
And Linda clipped them out.
A woman named Caryl Vondra, who worked for Linda at Eagle State Bank, gave her the first cup of starter.
And Linda promptly plopped it in a Tupperware and started mothering it.
It's still in the same Tupperware, she said last week, revealing the slightly battered green bowl (with a lid that still burps).
The lifelong baker was getting ready to mix two cups of Herman with flour and baking powder, soda and salt, eggs and sugar, pecans and Crisco and turn it into scones.
It’s been her routine for 39 years now. Taking care of Herman.
One week she feeds, the next she bakes, Linda says. Cookies and coffee cake and cinnamon rolls and scones and bread, she’s made them all.
“You add sugar, flour and milk, stir it and it multiplies. The trick is you have to keep using it.”
That’s the thing with a sourdough starter, nonbakers. Use it or lose it.
And most bakers, even the most dedicated, tire of their bowls of gooey mix and toss them after a few years.
Take Caryl, the original giver.
“I got busy with kids and school and gave it up,” she says. “But she was so faithful taking care of it.”
Linda’s mix has lasted longer than most marriages, says Bonnie Forst, a church friend from First United Methodist.
Not the Schmidts.
She and Milt celebrated 40 years on Valentine’s Day. He came to the marriage with two children — Craig and Shannon. (There’s a bag of scones in the freezer awaiting Craig as we speak.)
“She got me through her baking,” Milt says.
And she got the joy of baking through her mom, Linda says. Watching her make pies and cookies and rolls during her growing up years in northeast Lincoln.
And when she ran the bank, baking was her refuge.
“It was a stress reliever to come home and make a batch of cookies. Make something that you could complete, start to finish.”
She and Milt are both retired now.
They’ve lived in this townhouse in south Lincoln since 1993.
Back when they (and Herman) were younger, they lived on Sherman Street and a neighbor’s husband would babysit the starter when they vacationed.
She’s more laid-back now and Herman seems to be OK if she’s a few days late with a feeding.
“You’re supposed to bake with two (cups) and give one away,” she says. “I’m at the point where nobody will take it.”
(The visiting reporter is tempted, but worries Herman will be neglected, fall ill and die in her fridge.)
Linda talks while she stirs. The small TV next to the kitchen table is tuned to the Food Network.
Today’s scones will head to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. She and Milt both volunteer there Mondays and Wednesdays. Linda does clerical work. Milt transports patients to physical therapy.
The staff jokes with him: You can’t come back if you don’t bring scones.
Linda never fails them. She’s up early — Jazzercise at 5:30 a.m., five days a week — and has this week’s batch in the oven before mid-morning, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
She will check them once — two more minutes — then again — another 30 seconds.
She wants them to be just right.
“I’ve been known to sit on the floor and watch.”
If Milt is home, he’ll sample one while it’s still warm.
He’s proud of his wife, the woman who kept Herman alive through her diagnosis of uterine cancer and the surgery and chemo that followed last year.
He loves her for far more than her baking, of course.
But there is the baking.
“You don’t want to try the cinnamon rolls,” he warns. “That’s why I go to the gym five days a week.”