The cult of the bread

I love bread. I have always loved bread. For my 17th birthday my mum gave me a copy of Elizabeth David’s tome ‘English Bread and Yeast Cookery’ and I was dead chuffed. I read it cover to cover, all 500-odd pages of it. So obviously I’m a carb-addicted nerd. I even used it to bake with, converting her complicated imperial measurements (a quarter of a gill anyone?!) into metric. I tell you, if they’d used recipes as an aid to teaching maths, I’d probably be a rocket scientist and not a girl with a liberal arts degree.

Travelling around Europe The Man and I have been passing comment on the quality of the bread in the supermarkets and bakeries and served with our meals in restaurants. Incidentally, we’re keeping tabs on whether the bread is provided free or set on the table and then sneakily charged for later; I know it’s a petty irk but it riles me. Either it’s a gift or it’s not. So far, Spain has had a poor showing, Lisbon was excellent but here in Serbia, bread’s practically a religion.

We were surprised in Seville that in all the bars and restaurants we were given a pre-packaged roll or basket of sliced baguette that was closer to Sao crackers than bread: dry and crumbly and with a really hard crust and not much use for anything. We thought perhaps it was just an economical solution, rather than having fresh bread going stale, but even the supermarkets sold the little cellophane packaged rolls by weight. I’m really not sure whether Spain has a culture of bread because Granada and Madrid weren’t much better.

Lisbon, by comparison, had phenomenal bread. The least promising looking bakery had large squashy sourdough rolls, full of healthy bubbles and dusty with flour. In the restaurants, it was a challenge to not eat all the lovely bread before my meal arrived. Even regular sandwich bread was satisfying; a cheese and salad sandwich one day was a complete meal because of the home-made wholemeal bread.

Here in the Balkans bread is the foundation of the meal. The Man’s aunty very seriously explained to me that bread is the staple and a meal is almost unthinkable without it. Check out the picture below of a typical lunch spread of roasted peppers, young cheese and bread.


Balkan lunch spread


The loaf in the picture is ‘somun’, a huge 2-3kg round sourdough traditionally baked by villagers in a wood fired brick oven. According to The Man’s aunty, these enormous loaves are baked by farmers’ wives on Saturdays, making enough to last the family for the coming week. We had the good fortune to visit family at their farm in rural south-western Serbia just as the somun had come out of the oven and we joined them for a lunch of fresh bread, home made ajvar and fresh kajmak, a salted clotted cream (more on that to come) which is a national delicacy.


Somun, a sourdough baked in a brick oven



Traditional wood fired brick oven


I was completely blown away by the brick oven still in regular use, housed in an out building on the farm. The somun had just come out of it and it was now only comfortingly warm rather than kiln-like and the heat-seeking farm cats were all curled up on the brick shelf surrounding the oven. It’s not just used for bread, but also ‘prebranac’ Serbian style baked beans and roast meats. I am incredibly lucky to see this method of cooking because, as the rural life becomes less economically viable and less attractive to young people, these kinds of traditional habits are slowly fading.
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4 Responses to The cult of the bread

  1. Boba says:

    I am thrilled with your text about brads Emica, feeling like putting a spread of kajmak on a piece of warm somun …yam. Also, imagining a long dinner table set in the garden, farmer’s family around having dinner after hard working day in mid -summer beautiful sunset in old rural Serbia. Excellent public presentation of slowly disappearing technology…though simple and healthy basic meal that people eat for many centuries should not be forgotten…Great analysis of ways how bred is served and sold in different places of your travel…one can distinguish between a good bred being offered or brad just being a fashion of the time (like when they put some brad baskets on the table to sell the old style while looking fake actually and brad being like rubber in your mouth)

  2. Anzacdaygirl says:

    When I was a teenager and we were all dieting, bread was considered bad, very very bad and so we all ate Vita Wheats and cheese (no butter) for our lunches in Year 12. Nowadays, I couldn’t cope without a sandwich at lunch time. No sushi for me, they just don’t cut it for lunch and forget the Vita Wheats – not enough substance.

    When I was growing up in NZ, we never had bread on the table at tea time (dinner) as was quite usual at the time, as it was considered a bit declasse. I usually only serve bread/toast with soup or scrambled eggs – those ‘Sunday night’ type meals. The main reason is less about social class and more about carbs – I still have a bit of a love/hate thing going for them. I love good bread really enjoyed the different types of bread I ate when I was visiting Belgrade recently. And…. I do love a good piece of crusty bread slathered in butter – during the day, mind!

    • Helen Wilson says:

      Bread for me is definitely not to have with a meal. I think it stands alone for a lunch. (nothing like the wonderful Abhi’s in South Fremantle) and I must say I’m a bit of fruit bread ologist. Have that with Ricotta cheese mixed with a bit of cinammon, and finely sliced pears for a yummy breakfast of a Saturday. Again, you can’t go past Abhi’s bread. Like AnzacDay Girl I did have a love/hate relationship because of watching the good old calories and the possibility of pigging out. Now in my maturity I see it as a wonderful food source and not to be ruined by eating horribly boring processed stuff.

  3. Anzacdaygirl says:

    Toasted fruit bread is definitely a weekend treat. My nearest good bread place is the New Norcia bakery so I buy their multi-grain fruit bread. Love the ricotta suggestion. I have also devoted time and money to various kinds of fruit breads. And yes, it certainly can be wonderful. The Vogels bread of our youth did not have fruit, but was pretty special, especially toasted, with EnZed butter and white clover honey. It was the first of the artisan-type breads made by a commercial bakery, if I remember correctly.

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