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Bread Upon the Bayou: Part II

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Every so often, my father would bake bread. He learned the skill from my grandmother, which meant that bread-making was not a happy diversion, but a form of harsh discipline. That’s because every act my grandmother committed in her life was one of harsh discipline: running an ice cream store, marriage, Christmas and “enjoying” her grandchildren.

In the case of bread-making, this little gem of domestic solicitude required getting out of bed at 3 a.m. to knead the dough and add yeast. During the time it took the dough to rise, while the rest of us slept soundly and peacefully, my father would consult the Daily Racing Form to map out the strategy he’d use at the track later that day to ensure losing every dollar he’d wager. It was a remarkably fool-proof system: His analytical skills were flawless in picking the winners, just as the hunches he decided to play once he got to the track were totally wrong.

Baking was harsh enough discipline for my father, but in the liturgy of the Cajun family, discipline was considered squandered unless it could be meted upon many family members. This explains why visiting my grandmother involved so many members of the family at once.

Thus the discipline my father endured while baking extended to the rest of the family. The risen dough would be popped into the oven around 4:30 a.m., then come piping hot out of the oven about 5. Now, since homemade bread can only be eaten when it’s piping hot, the rest of us would be jolted from a sound and peaceful sleep with the cry, “Bread’s ready.”

It is hard to describe eating while asleep. Try to imagine a mother and three children gathered around a plate of hot bread, an expression of disturbed slumber frozen on their faces—eyes open, unblinking and unfocused, a slight drool forming at the corners of the mouths. In other words, picture a scene from a movie titled “Zombie Breakfast.”

We ate in a ritualistic fashion while calculating when we might have eaten enough to have paid due homage to the baker and slink back to bed. I must acknowledge that the dreams produced from this experience were billowy and buttery fantasies that you’d awaken from with a fresh appetite for breakfast.

There were other times when my parents returned home after a night out, laden with hot roast beef po’ boys, around midnight. Given the necessity of eating the po’ boys when the bread was still fresh (see “Bread upon the Bayou: Part I” last month), we kids were awakened to eat a sandwich dripping with beef, gravy, mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles—just what the digestive system craves in the middle of the night.

Dreams produced from this brutal assault on peristalsis lacked any billowy butteriness. They were characterized instead by horrors too menacing to describe. Later, having read parts of Dante’s “Inferno,” I guessed he’d probably conceived of it after being forced to eat a 13th-century version of a roast beef po’ boy in the middle of the night, too.

To this day, I can’t look at a bottle of Pepto Bismol without thinking of it as a breakfast drink.

Reid still describes himself as a light sleeper. Read more Reid at www.delawaretoday.com.

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