Saturday, December 9, 2023

Bread and Toast

the Pearl Girl

When I asked for “Sour Rye with Seeds, please” at the bakery counter, the woman looked at me quizzically.  “Sour…rye?”

“Oh, that’s an old term from my childhood on Long Island– sour rye bread came from our neighborhood bakery.  It’s as if my grandmother had sent me up to Bell Blvd. for a loaf at the local bakery and those words came out,” I smiled.

The woman behind the counter smiled also, understanding.  How many foods and aromas in our lives are throw-backs to another time?  Bread was always a  staple in my childhood home, and yes, the trips to a real, old fashioned bakery happened several times a week.  Upon opening the door to the bakery, the aromas would envelop you.  Breads of every sort lined the display racks, browned to perfection–some soft, chewy, crispy, hearty…and always fresh and fragrant.  The woman who waited on you would ask if you wanted it sliced–we did– and the machine would chug away, the bread then slipped into a waxy bag, open at one end , letting the warmth and aroma drift out. Sour rye with seeds, sliced–our standard order.  It was best, of course, eaten as soon as you got home.  Still warm, soft and tender inside, crispy on the outside, we’d slather it with real butter (My dad and I spread a thick layer always and sometimes he added ground beef and onions)…and savor the rich rye flavor, accented by caraway seeds.  Long Island bakers have the knack…and a special recipe and method, I think, because no one else has matched this bread.

So, once again, the life I lived growing up has re-surfaced–in a good way.  I hope the memories will always be alive to me.  An elderly aunt of mine, her knowledge of the present vague, lives largely in the past.  Her daughter is sometimes my mother (her sister) in her mind.  And she shed real tears when she was faced with the reality that her mother had died many years ago.  I hope she has forgotten that now and that she feels that “Flossie” will visit her soon.

The other bread that influenced my life was my mother-in-law’s oatmeal bread, baked to perfection in her own kitchen at the farm where my daughter Katie now lives. (See Katie’s Farm blog.) In the busy kitchen– where the men would traipse on their way to farm chores and work, where visitors always found a hot cup of coffee and a game of Jahtzee at the kitchen table, where conversation moved easily among topics from the family to animals to Bingo to As the World Turns– through all this, the bread ingredients were being measured (by hand and memory), mixed in the large industrial machine, thrown into the greased pans lining the counter, covered with cloths to rise, and then placed in the hot oven to bake.  This “little” bread making business supplemented the family income (as did the egg money) and helped put two children through college.  Driving home to Long Island one weekend, I remember that the aroma of the warm bread I carried being so tempting that it was ripped apart by hand and dipped into the honey jar we bore along also. Wonderful!

The “toast” part of my story comes with a large dose of comfort once again.  I had had knee surgery, and my friend MaryLou generously took me into her lovely home the afternoon of my surgery as I needed quiet and  a watchful eye.  Very groggily, the pain masked by pain medication, my stiff knee bandaged and swollen, my friend and daughter managed to get me into the guest room to rest away the afternoon.  I imagined myself as Anne of Green Gables feeling very special to reside in the “spare room.”  MaryLou’s “spare room” was sunny (as I remember), bright, beautiful, clean…and so comforting in its feeling.  I remember drifting in and out of sleep in the comfortable bed, the deep, healing sleep nurturing me.  Later on, I remember my friend’s gentle voice and touch offering me a tray on which a teacup of hot tea and a delicate plate of warm cinnamon toast rested.  I was renewed in body and spirit.  Certainly God’s blessings and MaryLou’s care…and cinnamon toast… helped to begin my recovery.


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  • Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Oh,and the fresh toasted cinnamon bread sounded wonderful!You are blessed to have a friend like that…….

  • Posted February 26, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I ,too,remember fresh rye bread.Being at my grandparents house on Dewey ave.,in Pittsfield,Mass.,my grandmother always had rye bread and butter for us and a big pot of coffee with canned milk and sugar.I was only about 8 years old,drinking coffee.I loved it!

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