Tony Deyal | Tony the hard-baked cereal killer
Give us this day our daily bread. Regardless of whether it is leavened or unleavened, made by the sweat of my brow or somebody else’s, low salt or high sugar, bulla or cob, bake or roti, bun or roll, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m a bread-aholic.
As I continue to tell all those who join me in my morning coffee at home or at Adam’s Bagelry in Trinidad, the Blue Monkey in St Lucia, Cafe Blue in Jamaica or Happy Days in Barbados, if I were to be reincarnated as a fruit or vegetable, I would return as a breadnut. In fact, my exquisite manners when I’m chomping down my Easter bun or adding brown sugar-enhanced cream cheese to my cinnamon-raisin bagel and licking the spoon prove that I am very well bread.
As I travel through the Caribbean, when people hail out to me as their Trini ‘Breads’ or ‘Breaddah’, I marvel at their perceptiveness and insight. How do they know that bread is my favourite food and that in my churchgoing days, my favourite hymn was Oh Breadder Man? Over the years, I have become more than a glutton when it comes to bread; I am a gluten. Breadren is my name, flour power is my game.
Bread is as old as civilisation itself. My original African ancestors who made their way to all the other parts of the world, including India, as early as the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age period, made their own bread. Starch grains found on 30,000-year-old grinding stones make it clear that prehistoric man may have dined on an early form of flatbread. Where the sweat of their brows came in was in grinding down plant roots, similar to potatoes, to make flour.
Researchers found palm-size grinding stones at sites in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic. The concept of ‘sin’ had not yet come into vogue, since only those without this modern disadvantage would have been able to cast the first stones. The ‘primitive’ people then added fresh river water to make the dough for a flat bread similar to the Indian ‘saada’ roti or pancake, which they cooked on a hot stone. I suppose, trying to bake barefoot in a volcanic area is where the name IHOP originated, and I am sure that further exploration will reveal drawings, in front of, and not inside caves, with the IHOP sign and advertisements for ‘Bread and Mammoth’ or ‘Rex and Pancakes’ for sale.
Today, life without bread is like politics without corruption or Jofra Archer without a ball. It is the staple that holds my life in the Caribbean together. In Barbados, where I lived for several years and begat two children, I found two additional reasons to love the country. The first is that while Trini pride might be in its fading oil wealth, Bajan Pride is a flour.
Second, Barbados is the only country with a local bread called a ‘health cob’. The word ‘cob’ is from Late Middle English and means ‘rounded’ or ‘head’, so it is a round head like Oliver Cromwell but not as hard to swallow. The ‘health’ cob has raisins, my favourite additive in all baked goods. In my old days of travelling through the English-speaking Caribbean by LIAT and knowing that I would be spending long hours in airports after the cafeterias had closed for the night, I always took one with me.
Even though Guyanese tennis rolls with their lemony, vanilla flavour are my favourite Caribbean bread, I go with whatever is available on any day of the week, from Jamaican hardough (probably named after the cost of living) or coco bread, Dominica mastiff with its size and bite, or Antigua Sunday bread.
Although I’ve had the occasional Jamaican bulla because of the sweet ginger flavour, it is something I do not dare mention to my Trini friends, who prefer to eat salt fish and roll straight off their beds.
LOVE FOR BAGELS
In addition, I love bagels. The bagel, a roll with a hole, something it has in common with Mark Antony and other great lovers and playboys in history, is golden brown and crusty on the outside, and soft and tender on the inside. Without the cream cheese and salt salmon (lox), they have only 270 calories per three-ounce bagel.
The first bagel rolled into the world in 1683 when a local baker wanted to pay tribute to Jan Sobieski, the king of Poland. King Jan had just saved the people of Austria from an onslaught of Turkish invaders and a lifetime of nougat. The king was a great horseman, and the baker decided to shape the yeast dough into an uneven circle resembling a stirrup. The Austrian word for ‘stirrup’ is ‘beugel’. My word for bagel is ‘Adam’s’, the first and only bagel factory in the Caribbean.
Before Adam’s opened in Trinidad more than 27 years ago, I had lived and worked in Washington, DC, and my way to work at the World Bank and, subsequently, the Pan American Health Organisation, was interrupted by a bagel factory. The low-cost, wide choices and great taste made me a bagel junkie, and so, upon my return briefly to Trinidad, I was overjoyed to know that a bagel factory would be, apart from steel pan music and ‘doubles’, our first major contribution to civilisation as I define it. Not that our other breads are not worth their salt, but there is something about bagels that give them pole position in the race. They are the Lewis Hamilton and veritable McLaren of flour power.
A union in Trinidad has as its rallying cry the motto, ‘Peace, Bread and Justice’. Given the battles they fought in the early days under the leadership of labour stalwarts Tubal Uriah Butler and George Weeks, I marvel at their insight in putting bread in its rightful place at the centre of man’s search for salvation and salivation.
However, we are not the only creatures that do so, and this story is worth a rye smile or two. Two insects left the flour bin to go out into the world to seek fame, fortune and dough. One became a roll model and the other, whose life was filled with many turnovers because of his half-baked schemes, died before knowing how much he was kneaded. He was always known as the lesser of the two weevils.
Tony Deyal was last seen in St Vincent asking angrily, “Sure I love arrowroot and other grains, but how does that make me a cereal killer?”