Bagel or beigel? Our daily bread.

I say 'baygel'. A writer friend, from a Jewish family, pronounces it 'buygel'. When I met them on a supermarket shelf for the first time, in Florida in the summer of 1988, I was impressed by their versatility: plain, onion, poppy seeded, something very speckled (this could have been what I've since discovered is called 'Everything') and cinnamon and raisin. This is a bread roll that knows how to compete, I thought. A bread roll that goes the distance.

It was Andrea, the wife of the British artist, Barry Leighton Jones, who we were living with that summer who introduced them to me: lightly toasted, spread with cream cheese, draped with smoked salmon, and crowned with fresh onion and tomato. That's tomahto not tomayto! 

Cream cheese and smoked salmon on toast is nice but it doesn't compare with a bagel, its hint of resistance when you first bite, before your teeth sink into the doughy interior. This is dough that persists, pushes and wraps into every miniature crevasse in your mouth. But no-one can resist softness, pliability; it would be just too damn rude to complain, rather like criticising champagne for its bubbles.

Hungry writing prompt
Write about something or someone that is persistent, something or someone that won't go away.

When I eat them now I always remember that surprising summer of orange
trees in the garden, a swimming pool the temperature of a warm bath, flash rain storms that could turn a parking lot into a lake within minutes. And mosquitoes. And the first words I ever wrote, the beginning of myself as a writer. And long thin lasagne sheets with rippled edges that Andrea used to roll up around a mixture of ricotta cheese and spinach and bake in a tomato sauce. I'd like to find those again. 

How can a simple bread roll be capable of reviving such rich memories, such deep emotion? Maybe because it's something that's intrinsic to our life experience, the ordinary (in its place in the past and present kitchens of our imaginations) and the reverential ('Give us this day our daily bread'). And it is capable of such weight too, such significance: hunger and revolution, fairy tales and the terrible truth of history.

The Lord's Prayer in Welsh
Here's an excerpt from my book, forgiving the rain, about bread, about its power and its glory:

"At school and at Sunday-school I closed my eyes, clasped my hands together and prayed in English and Welsh: Give us this day our daily bread: Dyro i ni heddiw ein bara beunyddiol, words I repeated by rote that meant nothing to me. 

It came to us in a van that toured the estate street by street whose back doors opened to slatted shelves and the smell of flour, where I gazed at the plump Cottage loaves and imagined carrying one home in my arms like a baby. But I always parted with the half-crown piece for the disappointingly smooth, pale crust of a Sandwich Loaf that my mother would slice with a silver knife.  

At mealtimes, unless there was gravy on our plates, it sat in the middle of the table – bread and butter, bara menyn – thin slices, cut in half, which we were expected to eat, out of habit, tradition, a memory of hunger." 

What are your memories of bread? The crusts, the crumbs? 



Comments

  1. This lovely post brought me back to the heavy Frankonian sourdough loaves of my childhood, large round bread loaves with thick crusts, spiced with coriander and cumin or cardamom. We were never allowed ot eat it fresh - it was usually delivered to the house - but had to wait for a day. Thickly cut slices with butter and home-made sour cherry jam.
    A bit like this here: http://berndsbakery.blogspot.de/2012/07/frankisches-holzofenbrot-franconian.html

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    1. Hi Sabine - thanks for dropping by. That spiced sourdough sounds wonderful. And with the sour cherry jam too - sweet and salt, gorgeous.

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  2. Dwarf willows. We used to collect them, some common some rare. We had a town house then, in Twickenham, tall and elegant but no garden to speak of. So, dwarf willows it was then, in oblong terracotta pots. Pride and joy, our back yard, dwarf willows.
    Then there was the day we went to Kew Gardens and - there it was, salix boydii. And her maiden name was Boyd - so it was meant to be, and we begged Kew to sell us one. It took them a year, but finally they wrote and said, dear sir or madam, your salix boydii is available for collection.
    Except by then there was no madam, only sir. Madam was with him. In the town house. In Twickenham. She forwarded the letter to me, at my mate's grotty flat in South London. Shall I buy it? she asked. I didn't reply.
    My new wife and I have just come back from visiting Hidcote, in Gloucestershire. Superb National Trust garden. Proudly featured among this year's new plantings was a fine specimen of a rare dwarf willow, salix boydii.
    It won't go away.

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  3. Hi Stephen - these flash stories of yours are quite masterful. All the ingredients of a short story but wonderfully contained. Thanks for sharing it here.

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  4. Thanks Lynne. The older I get, the more painful my memories. But by contrast, the sweeter the current days. Fair trade-off?

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