In the top drawer of the tiny kitchen in our London cottage lies the cutlery. A divided wire basket holds the bright, shiny new knives, forks and spoons bought for the life we are making together in England. Beside them lie a jumble of old utensils culled from my mother’s three homes in Hampshire, each house smaller than the last, and all within two miles of each other. The utensils were scooped up from the collection that she could not bear to let go, I remembered, and still can’t abandon. Prominent among them are the knives: old breakfast knives, a small kitchen knife, the knife sharpener, and her old bread knife.
The bread knife has a stained and cracked bone handle and tightly grooved serrated blades. Even knowing that it struggles with the modern artesian breads of the day, I still cannot bring myself to let it loose in a charity shop where it might linger, like a homely girl at a village dance, waiting unclaimed on the shelf. So I kept it and wonder from time to time how old it really is. It does struggle so with today’s artisan breads, tearing the oblong French baguettes and rounded Italian soughdoughs. German breads with their dense rye flour fair better. The multi-grain wheat breads even better yet. But the bread knife and I struggle on, cutting and slicing on the beach-wood cutting board, grateful for each other. It knows it is safe with me and I have no thoughts to abandon it. In fact, I feel safer and enjoy a duller bladed knife.
One year at Christmas, in despair, one of our daughters gave us a new serrated bread knife for the farm kitchen. It is sharp, German and created to march through any loaf that is placed before it. And it does that with the utmost efficiency, taking no prisoners. Before the New Year had arrived it had also taken a piece of my forefinger along with a crusty slice of local artisan bread. When back on the farm I still use that knife – but – with great caution.
This Saturday afternoon as my husband was going out he asked it I needed anything.
“Yes please. A loaf. We are out of bread.” I was expecting him to pick up his favorite Italian bread from Anthony’s Deli on the high street in the village. But he lingered around the weekend stalls set out on the high-street and was gone a long time. When he did successfully return from the hunt, he opened up the bag and brought out a large English Tin Loaf, unsliced.
It was a big white loaf, just like we used to get from the baker, Mr. Wright, whose wife and family made fresh bread in their shop every day in Fleet. Daily the queues outside of ‘Wright’s the Baker,’ went out the door from nine a.m. through to noon by which time every loaf of bread was sold and all that was left were the tea time cream-cakes. Every variety they made and placed out on their shelves could make and hold chunky sandwiches with a smear of butter before a good chunk of cheddar cheese, and some Branson Pickle without falling apart. They held together and were ready to eat in the van, on the lunch break or in the fields. The sort of loaf – freshly baked – and on the shelf – that immediately made one hungry for a slice.
And that is how we felt when my husband came home on this Saturday afternoon with his trophy which he unwrapped and laid out on the beach-wood cutting board. The tin loaf sat happily on the bread-board while I opened up the drawer and took out Granny’s old bread knife now long married to the cutting board. I swear the knife quivered in recognition and pulled my right hand towards the loaf, as if reaching for an old remembered friend.
The loaf of bread held steady under my left hand and seemed to sigh in relief as the blade stroked the crust and then bit deep into the first slice, letting the heel of the bread fall gently onto the breadboard. I cut another slice, and another, clean, even slices of bread. I put the knife down and it rested on the counter as if in a swoon of remembered happiness.
The English Tin loaf was rewrapped and put away for tomorrow’s breakfast. Next we put the kettle on.
The fallen slices of bread were firm and smooth and lay flat ready to receive a smothering of butter and honey. It was time for afternoon tea which we enjoyed sitting out on the terrace. Once more grateful for those things found, remembered, and not forgotten.