My aunt in Hungary still goes to the market daily to buy bread. She feeds the remains from the day before, to the birds. Wasteful perhaps, or all in the way you look at it. When she was a little girl following the Depression, it took a cart full of paper bills to buy a single loaf of black bread.
My father, imprisoned in Hungary for nearly seven years, was content enough to eat the wedge of dry bread he was given; it was better than the blue mouldy crusts he was sometimes left. Even his dinner companion, the rat, had trouble consuming that.
My mother baked bread over thirty-five years for my father. Hers was the only kind he would eat: white with a thick golden crust, crumbly after the first day. No wonder my aunt replaces hers daily.
Arriving in Canada sixty years ago, I remember my delight when a classmate at lunch time offered me store-bought, uniformly sliced, white bread that tasted sweet and stuck to the roof of my mouth.
That is the same kind of bread with the crusts off and cut into tiny, even sized cubes with an electric knife, which is served at Presbyterian Communions. It also sticks to the roof of the mouth, needing to be swallowed with a drop of grape juice, pretending to be wine, offered in minuscule glasses. Husband, the Protestant Minister, would sometimes rebel against the minute bread cubes when serving Holy Communion. He would hold up a full loaf of his favourite Italian bread, tear it into two parts before the congregation, rip off a piece for himself and pass the rest to the Elders to do the same: the bread of life to commemorate the Last Supper of the man Jesus, before his death. In the Roman Catholic Church where I’m not permitted to take Mass, wafers are distributed that melt in your mouth, intended to represent the body of Christ. The wafer ‘bread’ is meant to mimic the unleavened bread likely provided at the Last Supper, marking the Passover when the Israelites had to flee Egypt from their captors; there hadn’t been sufficient time to allow the bread to rise.
Most restaurants place bread at the dinner table. Indian restaurants serve Nan bread, which too is flat and hardly risen, and which I rather like. This type of bread is close to the initial bread, discovered by mistake no doubt, by the female some 30,000 years ago, while accidentally splashing water on the cooking grain. Variations sprung from that kind of unintentional experiment ‒ passed on, refined, and redefined throughout history and cultures: cooking, grilling, frying, baking bread to share among the family, the tribe and even with strangers.
Throughout my travels, my most delicious bread experiences have been the baguette devoured with a hunk of cheese while sitting on a bench along the Seine River, overlooking Notre Dame Cathedral; and while still in Paris ‒ the croissant ‒delicately consumed with café au lait, from a bowl. I’ve even attempted to make croissants years ago. Unsuccessfully! Do you know how many foldings and days are required to follow this process? Never mind. Some patisseries sell good ones. A woman I know bakes several loaves of whole wheat bread for a group’s fund raiser auction, every year. I give up bidding at the $20 point. They must taste like manna from heaven! I’ve tried to catch onto the gluten free fad, but the frozen loaf I purchased for far too much money at the grocery store was as dry and crumbly as my Mom’s bread on the second day ‒ though I need to digress ‒ when Mom’s bread came out of the oven, the air in the house floated in an aroma of utter ecstasy…
Sitting with friends at lunch recently, we gravitated for the warm rolls, permitting ourselves to enjoy their intoxicating fragrance and luscious flavour while poo-pooing this generation’s fervour that means to control carb consumption. Yet even Oprah, who is currently promoting Weight Watchers on television, confesses with what can only be defined as orgasmic passion: “I LOOOOVE Bread!”
Well there it is. Bread crosses all cultures and customs since its invention. Bread is a staple that has been part of my entire existence. Bread connects me to life long memories. The bottom line for me is that bread is about sharing and love. And no one has expressed it better than Omar Khayyám:
A book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread ‒ and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness ‒
O, Wilderness were Paradise enow!