The right kind of bread is very important — and the meaning of ‘right kind’ varies according to what we want the bread for. Majorca’s ‘pan moreno’ (brown country bread also known as ‘pa pagès’) is absolutely essential for the making of ‘pamboli’. It’s ideal for doing an English thick-textured bread sauce as well as for stuffings that call for breadcrumbs. But it’s not so good for dunking in the soft yolk of a fried or boiled egg because it doesn’t have the mopping-up qualities of soft white bread. A loaf called ‘pan mallorquín blanco’ is a better kind of ‘mop’ but is still not absorbent enough — and it doesn’t cut well. Others with an excellent soft crumb also slice very badly and aren’t suitable for doing sandwiches.
As I have lightly fried eggs for breakfast, I’ve been looking around for a suitable dunking bread that also gives nice slices — and it wasn’t at all easy to find one. But after trying different kinds of loaves made with distinct flours, I eventually I eventually came across one at a bakery just round the corner from where I live. It’s a place I’ve been using for years but I had never tried a loaf they call ‘pan blanco’. It’s the perfect kind of bread for dipping into a soft egg yolk — and it slices beautifully. This bakery-pastry shop is in Calle Antonio Marqués and it’s called Pastelería Rivoli (it’s next door to the Rivoli cinema).
They do superb petits fours called ‘pasteles de té’ and their ‘tarta la reina’, a chocolate-cream cake, is by far the best I know of. Although Britons eat less bread than before, it still plays an important part in our daily lives and the word creeps into everyday conversations — and not necessarily when we are talking about food. Unlike the Spanish (‘pan’), the French (‘pain’) and the Italians (‘pane’), who get their word from the Latin ‘panis’, our word has Germanic roots that gave such words as ‘bröd’ (Swedish and Danish), ‘brood’ (Dutch) and ‘brauo’ (Icelandic).
Bread is more than a staple food: it can mean money, a term young Britons got from the United States in the early 1950s, when it was used mainly by teddy boys, drug addicts and teenagers in general. But in London, bread meant money long before the 50s — ‘bread and honey’ was rhyming slang for money and it was frequently abbreviated to ‘bread’, which is where American jazz musicians got it from. However, genuine East London Cockneys preferred ‘bees and honey’ as rhyming slang for money.
The colloquial term ‘bread’ could also mean one’s livelihood because ‘bread and butter’ was a mid-19th century word for a job that provided one’s living. The term ‘out of bread’ could mean out of work or without money, depending on the context. The mid-18th century term ‘bad bread’ meant any kind of disagreeable situation. In the late 19th century ‘as I live by bread’ meant ‘as true as I stand here’.
The term ‘bread and bread’ in the 1970s meant a dull combination of any two similar things, such as two slices of bread without butter or jam. For users of rhyming slang, ‘bread and butter’ meant gutter, but ‘a bread and butter’ was a letter one sent to one’s hostess thanking her for a wonderful time. In the late 19th century a ‘bread and butter miss’ was a schoolgirlish teenager.
The ‘bread and butter squadron’ was a late 19th century Royal Navy term for the Mediterranean Squadron, because it was considered to be a cushy posting in the sun.
The term ‘bread and butter’ is associated in other ways with the good life or the easy way of doing something. In cricket, for instance, ‘a bread and butter wicket’ is one that is extremely pleasant for the batsmen and from which they are scoring easy runs.
In a similar vein, if we have ‘bread buttered on both sides’ then great or unexpected good fortune as involved.
Late 19th century sailors used the bread word for ship’s biscuits.Their term for a loaf of bread that was sliced and used for sandwiches was ‘soft tack’. In 19th century sailors’ slang, the ‘bread barge’ was a tray of ship’s biscuits.
But a ‘bread barge’ could also be a round wooden keg fitted with brass bands and a wooden lid in which the mess ration of ordinary bread was kept.
In the late 17th century, anything that was plain or ordinary — or even inferior — was referred to as ‘bread and cheese’. But if someone had ‘bread and cheese in his head’ it meant he was drunk.
In the late 18th century world of boxing, the ‘bread-basket’ was the stomach. Pugilistic synonyms were ‘bread-room’, ‘dumpling-depot’, ‘porridge-bowl’ and ‘victualling-office’. The ‘bread-bag’ was a mid-19thy century word for the stomach and was a variation on the earlier ‘bread-basket’. But ‘bread-bags’ was anyone in the victualling department of the Royal Navy or the Army. In Canadian slang of the early 1950s, ‘bread hooks’ meant the fingers and, by extension, the hand.
The late 19th century term ‘bread-artist’ was someone who painted to make a living and without any pretensions of creating great works of art.
The term ‘bread and cheese’ was late 19th century rhyming slang for sneeze and ‘bread and jam’ means a tram. And ‘bread and lard’ is hard, as in “Gorblimey! Ain’t that bread and lard, eh?”