GUEST COLUMN | The bread winner

We called it light bread. Others called it white bread. Regardless of what it was called, in my hometown of Ashdown, Arkansas and most of the rest of the South it was the foundation of the Southern food pyramid.

And it was found aplenty at our home on Beech Street. You never knew when company might come.

Over the years, I slowly fell away from light bread. I was encouraged to eat wheat and other "healthy" breads by well-intentioned doctors and wives.

But a recent visit from my mom brought clarity to the error of my ways. I ate light bread for the first time in a long time. Man, is it good.

Bread is something my wife and I both love. There really isn't much else that's better than a large loaf of carb-laden goodness that is fresh bread.

My wife's sandwiches are legendary in the family. Part of it is thanks to the fresh vegetables she grows in her garden. The other reason is the bread she selects at the bakery.

But her healthiness has become mine. She buys or bakes healthier bread. Over the years, I've become accustomed to it. Whole wheat. Multi Grain. Rye. Others.

Don't get me wrong. It's good bread. But after my mom came and wanted light bread, I was instantly reminded that I've strayed.

I even felt it before I ate it. As I dragged the bag of Mrs. Baird's from the grocery shelf I had a flashback of goodness of the past and goodness to come.

When I was a kid, light bread was as versatile as a Swiss Army knife. All brands were excellent. In addition to Mrs. Baird's, Holsum, Wonder, and Sunbeam were all great options.

In the mornings, my mom would make toast with butter melted into it. Pour fresh honey across the top and you had something so good; it rivaled granny's sweet tea.

If honey wasn't available, a trip to the pantry to open a jar of canned, pear preserves was the way to complete the morning meal. The pear wedges were covered in syrup, so you'd fold the toast around it and eat it that way.

The pear wedges had been canned to a softness that left the texture perfect.

On summer mornings, she'd let us make our own breakfast. Once again, it was light bread to the rescue. My sister and I would melt butter, sugar, and cinnamon on some slices. Cinnamon toast was an Arkansas delicacy.

If we'd been really good, mom would turn the light bread into French toast. It melted in your mouth.

Light bread was also how we ate hamburgers. Hamburger buns were something you got if you were lucky enough to go out to eat. They were large and fresh at Herb's and the Tastee-Freez, but at home they were made out of light bread.

On Beech Street, mom fried our hamburgers in a cast iron skillet. A bit of the drippings helped the patty sink into the light bread. A wedge of onion and some Miracle Whip and you had perfection.

We didn't need hot dog buns. We had light bread. Fry up some wienies in the cast iron skillet and the blackened franks melted into the bread and mustard.

Need croutons for a salad? Leave out a few pieces of light bread for a few hours, slice each piece into small sections, then put them on a cookie sheet for baking and you had croutons.

During the holidays, light bread became part of the stuffing recipe. Julia Child didn't have anything on my granny's light bread stuffing.

Bread pudding? All you needed was some leftover light bread and a family recipe. Hot out of the oven with a glass of milk or a hot cup of percolator coffee and you had memories.

Layered casseroles? Whether it was chicken, beef, tuna, or ham, a casserole was baked with a crown of cheese and leftover light bread. The meat was usually from leftovers too.

When people who grew up during The Depression raise you, you learn how to not waste anything.

My mom just wanted a sandwich made from light bread. So we made her one. Then I had one too. For breakfast, eggs over medium in the cast iron skillet and some light bread toast with honey. Me too.

I've strayed. I know doctors and wives have good intentions, but maybe I've lived this long just so I can go back to the building blocks of my raising.

Light bread is great any way you slice it.

John's latest book, "Puns for Groan People," and volumes 1 and 2 of his series "Write of Passage: A Southerner's View of Then and Now" are available on his website, TheCountryWriter.com, where you can also send him a message and hear his weekly podcast.

©2023 John Moore

photo Columnist John Moore has rediscovered the bread of his youth: light bread. (Photo courtesy of John Moore)

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