For the past several days I have been reading various rememberances of bread. All about the feel, the look and the taste of Wonder Bread, and all its gooey-gummy homage to American middle-class mediocrity. And also about the fresh bread pavilions in your neighborhood Kroger's or HEB, what with its attempts to provide "artisan" bakery goods for the modern family. And while these bakeries provide accessible breads for the hard-pressed Ozzie and Harriet, they seldom match the tastes of the neighborhood Daniel's Bakery of my youth.
Daniel's Bakery was a small family-run operation that provided Dad his occasional indulgence of pumpernickle bread. Oh, they made more then that! Donuts, and pasteries, French baguettes and Italian loafs, sourdoughs and ryes. But pumpernickle was Dad's favorite, and mine.
I remember him usually bringing home two loafs at a time, wrapped in a plain brown bag. One loaf went on top of the refrigerator, while the other went on the cutting board. Mom or Dad would slice into that heavy brown bread with the utilitarian, one-size-fits-all, kitchen knife. While there may have been other knives in the house, I can only remember the wooden-handled smooth-edged with a 8 or 9 inch blade. It once was a good inch thick at the butt, but has, the last time I saw it, almost the look of a filet knife, narrowed down by years of sharpening.
But I digress.
After the pumpernickle had been sliced, Dad would slather a gob of butter (though probably margarine on our budget) across the small butt-end piece, which was, in his eyes, the filet mignon. While the heel was to most the least desired piece, a throw-away scrap to some, it was Dad's preferred slice. It's not like he was taking the heel because he was saving the rest for the family. I'd don't remember there being much interest in the bread amongst us kids, at least not until later. I think he actually liked the crunchy chewy texture of the heel, much like a good Chibatta-style loaf.
I don't remember the bread being used any other way. I don't think Mom or Dad ever schmeared jam or preserves on a slice. I never saw them toast a piece. My memory was of the bread, and butter. That's it. A slice of pumpernickle, cut off one piece at a time, and a pat of butter. Plain and simple.
As I grew up, after Mom had died, Dad would share his pumpernickle with me. Whether I liked it for itself, or was simply hungry (which I always was), I don't know. Maybe it was the desire to break bread with the Old Man, a chance to sit quietly with Dad and talk, during a period when all our lives were topsy-turvy. For whatever reason, I liked, and still do like, that thick bread made with rye and white flour, suffused with cocoa and molasses, and spiced with caraway seeds.
The smell and taste of a good slice of pumpernickle, slathered with a dollop of real butter, recalls the Old Man, and a calm point in our everyday lives, a time for reflection and a time for planning the day or week ahead.
I think I know what I'm having for dinner...