Wednesday, 22 May 2013

In defence of the white slice

There is now such stigma attached to the purchase of white sliced bread that middle class shoppers now either look disdainfully on the aisle from which it is sold or check to see that no one is looking before ferreting it away in their basket/trolley - god forbid that anyone should see that 'mother's pride' might be lurking in the bread bin.

Again this has been repeated by the high street sandwich vendor and supermarket which have sought to systematically phase out the product in their convenience lines. Whether this is out of a general concern for the consumer's wellbeing or to add further lining to their pockets I am not sure. Certainly you can tack on more pounds and pennies to a hand-made seeded granary than you can a machine-milled, Chorleywood (name of production method) special!

But like Phil Collins, Nick Nolte and Marco Pierre White I think this soft, chewy and anemic product has had a bit of a bad press, being thwacked over the head with a cucumber - the very thing it once sandwiched - by the food police.

That special Scotland Yard task force, the 'Brown Bread Brigade' have cited more evils in white bread and it's constituent ingredients than were probably read out at the Nuremberg trials. The media loved it, spouting tales of lethargy, obesity, death all back up with heart-rending and cautionary tales that would not have been out of place in a Hoffman short story!

I am certainly not here to defend any health benefits of this product because I am not sure myself if it has many - unless it has been filled to the gunnels with extra vitamins and nutrients. This is more a plea, for people who can bare to eat bread in moderation - difficult as I know it is for some with the nation's new found love of baking - to re-appraise the humbled white slice and give it the culinary credit it deserves. Here I make my brief case:

I remember parts of my childhood vividly, mainly for the reason that they were not that long ago! Anyhow, even in the early 1990s sandwiches in my house were made with that classic, sadly forgotten brand, 'Mighty White', a bread (fortified with calcium) that had a deliciously squidgy, chewy, elastic texture - something I find unique to the product even to this day. Topped with all manner of spreads it is easy to see its appeal! Marmite was one such spread and I cannot imagine anything more befitting on my white slice, in fact I believe it to be the only true vehicle for marmite. The perfect thickness (medium), the thick spread of undated butter, the sticky dollop of Burton's finest... And I haven't even got to toast yet!

I am sure a number of you have experienced the Great British hotel breakfast - preferably served from a Trust House Forte dining service and metal teapot. Whilst these are often something of a curates egg there is one thing that remains consistent and that is the quality of the toast, served at room temperature it is a bendy affair with the most wonderful chewiness to it attempt to rip it in half you are presented with something of a challenge, like trying to tear one of those laminated business cards. It just bends and creases. Spread with lots of cold salted butter and maybe a bit of Oxford marmalade there really is nothing better!

The other great vehicle for white sliced bread is the great British sandwich, I am sure that his lordship who invented them did not use a seeded cob or a bran heavy bun. I like to think he (or more likely his scullery maid) carved slices of a bone-white farmhouse loaf. Sadly we have seen a decline in the use of white bread in sandwiches from the deli counter to the supermarket. I was devastated when Marks & Sparks decided to change the bread used in their ham sandwiches, the texture now just isn’t the same as its brown replacement doesn’t have the pleasing squidgy-ness that made the sandwich so pleasing! From roast beef to smoked salmon, to me there is no more pleasing vehicle for sandwiching a range of fillings – especially when you toast the bread first!

Three vague, nostalgic and sentimental examples (as well they should be!) outlining my love of this product, and three which I hope that you will try at one stage to reacquaint yourself with the delights of the white slice whether it be in the toaster, in a sandwich or even as an ingredient is some of Britain's best puddings. As an extra treat, and to really hammer home my point, later in the week I will be giving a recipe for one of the most delicious puddings I know, using the aforementioned bread, a baked apple charlotte!

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