Tag Archives: TOAST

COMFORT FOOD: BREAD

DSCF4060We all have our comfort foods—mine is bread. White bread was a staple of my Irish childhood—the sliced pan, as it was known. It made excellent toast images-1fingers for dipping in soft boiled eggs, or for spreading with honey, or munching with a heap of baked beans.

When I was a little kid my mother and her friends went through a hippie phase—transcendental meditation, yoga, lentils, you know the kind of thing. The upside was delicious homemade yogurt and yeast bread. That distinct sour yeasty smell when you took a big sniff of crusty baguette hot out of the oven still lingers. Later, brown-soda-bread-234x260she made wonderful, dense brown soda bread with a dollop of sticky treacle added for sweetness.

At Granny’s house, the bread came from Eileen’s, the tiny corner shop. You bought an uncut loaf, big as a doorstep, and so fresh it could get up and dance a jig. It was the perfect bed for a slab of bright yellow salty butter from the farm down the road. You had to watch out for the collie dog though, he was a nipper. And of course you had to top it off with Granny’s raspberry or gooseberry jam.

My other grandmother allowed me the treat of butter and peanut butter on my bread. But my abiding memory is of my grandfather’s breakfast ritual. When we came downstairs he was already seated at the table in a low-slung armchair, hair neatly combed, his thin body all jutting angles of knees and elbows. Arranged in front of him were his plate of toast, his gold-colored teapot and mug, and a book perched on a stand he’d made specifically for reading at mealtimes. His chin hovered no more than an inch or two above all this. But the beauty of the arrangement was that it allowed him—ever a fastidious man—to eat and read without taking his eyes off his book, and with no fear of crumbs cascading down his cardigan.

When I was seven we went to live on the Greek island of Corfu. The strange new foods were a shock to my bland Irish palette. Luckily, the coarse bread (an artisanal country loaf in today’s vlcsnap-2013-10-14-22h02m50s148parlance) made by the village baker was delicious. My sisters and I would get up early and gallop through the narrow, whitewashed streets to arrive in time to watch the loaves being pulled from the oven on long wooden paddles. The bread never made it home in one piece. On days when we went filming with my parents for the documentaries they made on the island, we would take along a picnic lunch. In a shady olive grove we’d listen to the cicadas zithering, eating chunks of bread doused in green olive oil and topped with sweet tomato slices and slabs of salty feta.

My first year in college, I’d come home late at night, starving, awash with experiences from my new adult world, yet still craving childhood comforts, and make myself a round of hot-buttered toast and marmalade.

Bread is still one of the great joys of my life. One of my favorite things to do is share a weekend imagesbrunch with my family: a crusty loaf of sourdough from the farmer’s market with a homemade soup to dunk it in, jars of hummus and basil pesto from the garden, slices of pungent local cheese, and plates brimming with cucumber and tomato slices and a handful of briny Kalamata olives. Heaven on a plate!

PINK GRAPEFRUIT MARMALADE

PINK GRAPEFRUIT MARMALADE

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My comfort food is toast, specifically, toast with butter and marmalade. Not just any old butter—rich, creamy, Irish butter, and not just any old marmalade—Seville orange marmalade, preferably homemade.

When I first came to live in America, not surprisingly, I left this comfort food far behind. Your basic loaf of supermarket bread had the consistency of a piece of sponge and was cloyingly sweet. The butter was pale and anemic. And marmalade—what marmalade?

It didn’t take me long to figure out the bread thing. In New York there are any number of great bakeries. Butter, well I could always splurge on those very expensive imports of Kerrygold, and then ration the bejaysus out of it. Or resort to stashing it in my luggage on trips home, hoping airport sniffer dogs didn’t have a taste for butter. But the marmalade proved elusive. Grape jelly was not an option. The only solution was to make my own.

Though a decent marmalade was as rare as hen’s teeth, finding a bitter Seville orange (preInternet-ordering days) in New York was nigh impossible. I was going to have to improvise. Move over Seville oranges. Cue the pink (or red) grapefruit.

All that was many moons ago. Now, each year around December, I keep my eyes open for the fresh crop of Florida grapefruit to hit the stores. Luckily this coincides with the holidays, because I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who likes pink grapefruit marmalade. I always make two or three batches, knowing I’ll give much away as gifts. The rest sit in my pantry to sustain me year long.

Yes, it’s an afternoon’s work, but shockingly simple to make (oops, let the cat out of the bag on that one). So if you’re in the mood to try something new, here’s my recipe. Warning, it can become addictive.

MELISSA’S PINK GRAPEFRUIT MARMALADE

Pink Grapefruit, preferably organic

Sugar*

¼ cup of water

 *Most jam recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar.

I use 2:1, but this is a personal taste thing.

Equipment: Sharp knife, it helps if you have a food processor with a grating attachment, but not essential. Scissors. Two large pots. Several glass jars (I use recycled, but you can go buy fancy canning jars if it tickles your fancy). Tongs.

This can get messy, so roll up your sleeves and put on your apron.

  1. Put your jars and lids on to boil in one of the pots.
  2. Scrub the mother out of those grapefruit in warm, soapy water.
  3. Slice them around the middle and pop out any large seeds.
  4. By hand, squeeze some of the juice out of the fruit into cooking pot.
  5. Snip the pith core out of each grapefruit half.
  6. Grate at least half the squeezed halves with the food processor.
  7. Hand cut the other half. Everyone has their own preference for rind thickness.
  8. Plop everything into the cooking pot & add your sugar & water.
  9. Bring to a rolling boil, then let simmer for at least ½ an hour, stirring occasionally. Then it’s up to you. I prefer my marmalade slightly runny and a golden amber color. If you prefer a stickier consistency cook a little longer, but don’t overdue it or you’ll get scorched, grapefruit flavored glue.
  10. While hot, ladle into glass jars & put full jars back into canning pot and bring back up to a boil for about ten minutes. This will seal the lids. Take out and let cool. Often you’ll hear the lids popping as they cool, letting you know the seal is good.

Serve on toast—where else.

Also delicious on crackers with cheese, good for glazing hams, and surprisingly tasty as a chutney-like side with sausages.

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If you try this, I’d love to know how you get on, and I’m happy to answer any questions.

Slainté