Putting the bread

May 7, 2007

The Independent newsweekly gives us fantastic series of essays about bread baking in the Triangle, The fall and rise of good bread. David Auerbach‘s ode to the bread oven is particularly interesting, and as I read it, I was thinking back to some of the best bread I’ve had, of all places an island in the South Pacific and another island in the Caribbean.

During my Peace Corps service on Paama Island (in the Republic of Vanuatu), I loved walking the hundred yards from our home over to Micah’s bread oven, where a couple days a week Micah would bake a simple white bread that sold for 100 vatu (about a dollar) a loaf. He’d have hand-mixed and kneaded the dough in an aluminum wash bin, divvied it up among the few dozen bread pans — some left over from the missionary days before Vanuatu’s 1980 independence — and put the pans in the long and narrow brick oven that had been fired with the ample deadwood always available on the island. I’d hurry to get a loaf, since Micah always sold out, and I’d hurry to get back to our home, where I would cut a few slices and make a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich that was so much better than eating peanut butter on the hard Australian crackers we usually had in our food safe (although even the ants had a tough time with these crackers).

Micah, by the way, was the father of Baby Erin, his daughter with Matu, the sister of my adoptive brother Noel. Paamese tradition suggested that Erin (my wife and fellow volunteer), as Noel’s sister, would get to “put the name” to the baby, and any other aunts (or uncles for a boy baby) would give the child her own name, so a girl or boy on Paama would end up answering to a different name depending upon which relative was speaking. (I wrote about this Paama naming convention here). Matu went ahead and named her daughter Erin; I think we gave Matu some money for Baby Erin, and gave Micah some new bread pans that we picked up in the capital, Port Vila.

But back to bread.

When Micah wasn’t making bread, we had an alternative: I baked bread in a Dutch oven covered with coals from the kitchen fire. When that loaf came out, it would cool for only a few minutes before I had a steaming slice, slathered with Nutella, sailing for my hungry mouth.

The few days when we had day-old bread, Erin would make a tasty bread pudding, and that would have me remembering a tiny bakery in Frederiksted, a town on the west coast of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Before school most mornings, I walked up to the counter and paid my 50 cents for a warm, soft, delicious bread roll. After school, if I had a dollar, I’d return to the bakery and buy a square of moist bread pudding with plump raisins.

Now I’m landlocked, but to read the Independent, seems I have a good opportunity to add some more bread tastings to my pantry of memories.

Anton Zuiker

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