Come Dine With Us - Part I - Bread
I started this article somewhere over Central Asia as we were flying to Nepal for an extended visit. It started out as a fond recollection of a Come Dine With Me competition among friends we had last year, but somewhere along the way it morphed into My Favourite Things. In The Sound Of Music Julie Andrews sings about her favourite things. She says when she is sad or something unpleasant happens, she simply remembers her favourite things and then she doesn’t feel so bad. Being away from home and many things familiar may have given this song new meaning. I find a lot of comfort in food, the preparation thereof and feasting on it, so I would like to invite you to come and dine with us, and venture with me and my angel to some of our favourite food and memories.
Being the man, I will take the first turn. There are a couple of smells that just make me weak: the smell of fresh coffee; the smell of cocoa; but one that truly makes my mouth water is the smell of freshly baked bread. I am a sucker for bread. I enjoy bread in all its wonderful forms, from a “potbrood” (pot bread) being shaken out of the black pot - butter melting into it and dripping with Lyle’s golden syrup - to a freshly baked croissant with strong cheese. I really don’t discriminate.
Bread? We’re talking about bread? Oh, my! Where to begin? Probably with one of my earliest bread memories. In our little town a few decades ago, bread was delivered from the bakery in another town about 100km away. No-one in town had a bakery, so this was the best solution. Every Tuesday a truck would turn in from the main road, stop in front of the Portuguese Caffee (yes, i realise the spelling seems off, but that’s how we called it those days) and deliver bread to them and to my parents’ store right across the road. These had been baked earlier that day, packed into plastic bags and delivered in crates. Maybe it was the fact that the truck was not air-conditioned, or maybe it was insulated really well. i can’t really explain why, but i remember one thing clearly: Those loaves were as fresh as fresh could be, steaming in their plastic bags and just begging to be cut into thick slices, smothered in margarine and apricot jam, and gobbled up by little mouths. Bread was only delivered to our town on Tuesdays. As my mother was not a bread baker, we only had fresh bread on Tuesdays. Back then there were no perfectly square, sliced loaves with a shelf life of a million years and soft crusts. Tuesdays will always be Fresh Bread Day to me
When we were very small, I vividly remember my grandmother (we called her Ouma Rietpan because they lived on a farm called by that name) baking bread in a coal stove. Whenever we heard the softest of sounds, my sister and I would rush to the kitchen to see this process unfold. My other grandmother was a cook par excellence. She would bake the most amazing anise and condensed milk rusks. I was not a lover of the dried version, but a thick slice of that with butter or even without, was borderline improper. She would allow us to bake our own small version in the condensed milk can, and obviously it always was a dispute as to whose turn it was.
I remember running the final stretch of a Saturday long run in Long street past a big bakery with the smell of fresh bread hanging in the air. To keep myself from stopping right there to buy a loaf, go home and just indulge was a weekly struggle.
When i was 16 years old, we moved from our beloved Karoo to the city. Things were so much different there. We didn’t know our way around and didn’t have any friends there. But there was one BIG treat for all of us: daily access to freshly baked bread. And not just plain loaves. Next to our neighbourhood Spar there was a small bakery with fresh bread (white, brown, wholeweat). There were hamburger buns and hotdog buns, cheese buns, garlic buns and French loaves. Maybe there were more items than those, but i can remember these. Cheese buns were a special treat. It would only be bought a few times a month and we’d savour it as if it was manna from heaven. One day we were all watching a soap opera on TV when my father came home. He peeked around the corner and said in his quiet voice: “I brought some cheese buns.” No reaction. [Tense moment on TV.] He’s a patient man. He went to the kitchen, put away the buns and waited a few minutes. Then he peeked in again. “I brought us some cheese buns.” We were all still glued to whatever-drama-was-playing-out-in-whatever-fake-world, and not a sound emerged from our lips. As he’s a gentleman, he didn’t insist we join him immediately, nor did he indulge by himself. He knew that the soapie would end soon, and he knew for sure that we wouldn’t pass on the cheese buns. He waited it out, and then we all swarmed the kitchen for the promised delicacy of fresh cheese buns.
One of my favourite breakfasts ever was on the beach in Angola. We were fishing near the Kunene mouth and had a Portuguese chef cooking for us. Every morning he would come and collect some of the early catch, returning later with freshly baked Portuguese bread and fish. If I say “to die for,” I really mean it was very, very, very good. Eating a meal on the beach just seems right to me. I remember a friend taking us for lunch in Oranjemund for freshly baked brötchen and German sausages with hot “slap tjips.” What an amazing, totally unhealthy, combination.
Maybe I should close the first of our favourite things with this: A few years ago we visited my angel’s aunt in Switzerland and she (angel, not aunt) would make me get up before five every morning to catch the first bus to the Gare Cornarvin to catch the first train to who-knows-where, but there was one consolation: Every morning a freshly brewed cup of coffee and a freshly baked chocolate croissant waited for me on the platform. That made all of it worth the while.
So you’re all invited to Come Dine With Us at our virtual table as we share our favourite foods with you. Although everyone has different favourite foods, we know that each of our readers will enjoy some of the items on this menu with us. We hope it will remind you of those ordinary and extraordinary meals that you have left its mark in your memories, and maybe even inspire your own new culinary adventures.
What are you waiting for? Get yourself to the nearest bakery now!