Bread – Pan Bagnat

A test piece to see how long it takes to bang out a certain length of a certain type of writing.

Requirements: to chat off the page to the reader, to provide a few facts, to tell you a bit about the writer.

I have to say I’m not too sure whether I like bread. Or, strictly speaking, whether it likes me, as people with dicky digestions up and down the country often say. Perhaps it depends on what mood I’m in, or perhaps it depends on how much sleep or exercise I’ve had, or perhaps it’s closely connected with the type of bread it is. Who knows? A little unpredictability is the current theme in this neck of the woods.

A lot of bread in this country takes the form of the squishy loaf produced by the Chorleywood bread process. Additives are used to make it prove quickly – 3.5 hours from flour to baked, sliced and packaged. It’s rectangular and packed in plastic. When it goes off, it goes mouldy with green spots all over. You can make it go off quite efficiently if you leave the loaf in its plastic bag in a warm place. In its favour, the shape means it’s very easy to stack and it’s very easy to make sandwiches from.

[Here I originally went off on a riff about the Scottish plain loaf and pan loaf (and its associated pan loafy voice) but it was too off-topic. It hit the cutting room floor.]

You can make your own bread, of course, and increasingly we can now find ‘craft’ breads. They are available, at a fair price [an ambiguous few words], in places where people with the fair price jingling in their pocket are to be found. Or in select villages. Do you fancy a German loaf with caraway seed? Do you prefer sourdough? What about flat bread of all kinds? Of course, I like them all. I can eat quite a lot of them, if I put my mind to it. And they can be used for sandwiches but if you slice them the filling can have a tendency to splurge out.

I think I like the biggish round loaves which you can use for ‘rustic’ sandwiches. Cut in half and pull out some of the crumb, sprinkle with a little vinegar, cram in the filling of meat/cheese/hardboiled eggs and a lot of green stuff and other salad. Olives or capers, perhaps. Green stuff is very important – the more the better. Wrap in clingfilm and put a heavy weight on the top. Do this the night before and the following day have it for a picnic. There’s still a bit of splurging but the taste of the different ingredients has mingled together. I was introduced to these by Philippa Davenport, the Financial Times’s late lamented food writer, and once you’ve had them you’re probably spoilt for anything else.

[Here I considered using a picture but rejected it for this piece.]

Almost all done in a scant 20 minutes without fact-checking. I was offline in the library by the estuary.

Fact-checking (and a few jaunts down internet highways and byways) + editing took another hour or so, sitting by the fire on an August afternoon.

I’ve now read Philippa Davenport’s recipe again. What a wonderful writer. ‘You can work out your own variations. The only essential is to make these sledgehammers of sandwiches the night before so that there can be a polite exchange of flavours during the long watches of darkness, and the whole has taken on an agreeable squidgy quality.’

599 words

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