Plain eating in January hasn’t been much of an imposition for me after the feasting of Christmas. Whilst January has many drawbacks, reduced choice at the dinner table, just for a little while, is not one of them. After eating so well, it’s a welcome relief to settle down to a few weeks of plates and bowls filled with ordinary fare: vegetable soup, boiled potatoes, pasta with oil and garlic, eggs and beans, or that simple and unadorned staple – bread and butter.
Certainly, I’ve not joined the refectory of the workhouse (yet), and there have been plenty of gatherings this month with well-laden plates, like last weekend’s Burns Supper. It might not be everyone’s favourite but S. loved it, appreciatively chanting “so nice” as he savoured his bowl of haggis, neeps and tatties. A., in a bold act of east-meets-west, arrived with a foil-covered dish containing a British classic (the one that elevates the simple loaf) with an Indian twist: chai-infused, saffron spiced bread and butter pudding. Delicious. Sometimes, though, I’m happy to sit down to a big mug of tea, a slice of Manna House bread and a generous spread of butter. If there is some homemade jam or marmalade all the better, but I’m as happy without it. And one mustn’t forget the bread and butter etiquette, even when alone. I was reminded of this on Sunday morning when I was invited to join a family breakfast. The son over-estimated the amount of butter needed for his toast, so scraped the excess back onto the butter dish, then the brother put a buttery knife into the Rose’s lemon and lime fine cut marmalade – the rules were sternly re-stated by the mother of the house.
The song of the Yellowhammer is said to sound like a chirrup for sustenance. Listen closely and you’re supposed to be able to decipher a tentative pleading, Oliver Twist style, as the wee bird cheeps out: ‘little bit of bread and no cheese.’ For me, though, it takes quite an imaginative leap, not to say sound contortionism, to translate the birdsong into a mid-afternoon snack order. But decide for yourself; have a listen in the coming months. Their preferred place to sing is from the top of a hedge or bush, unmistakable, the males anyway: bright yellow head, yellow underparts, with a brown back streaked with black. I’m sure it is no coincidence that we should anthropomorphise the little bunting by imposing upon it an almost biblical call for a food that’s eaten, in some shape or form, all over the world. In Eighteenth century France, bread became synonymous with revolution as, when the country’s poor had none of it and were starving, their out of touch monarch offered her solution: ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche’ or, ‘let them eat cake’. I’m not saying Marie Antionette’s six words sparked the French revolution, but it was a poorly judged sound bite and it didn’t do much for her career.
May you enjoy today’s daily bread, in whatever form it takes.
Pie In The Sky, by Ann Griffiths
Pie in the sky?
That’s no good to me.
I want pie on the table
Pie on my plate.
In fact if I can’t have the pie
I’d rather not be looking at it
Floating above me
Out of reach
Tempting and teasing.
Once the pie is there for me to eat
I’ll want custard
I’ll want cream
So is it better not to tempt us?
Not to tease us with what might be
Not to let us imagine that beautiful crust
That luscious filling.
Instead, send the pie away
Let’s enjoy reality
I’ll opt for bread and butter.