The multitalented bread

Delicious Slices of bread kept on display at a bakery   | Photo Credit: Photo: K.R. Deepak

Fresh or stale the versatile and the staple bread has many uses

Bread has been around since ages; archaeologists found 81 loaves of bread still sitting in an oven preserved and blackened by volcanic ash from Pompeii and the British Museum showcases a 4,000 years old loaf of bread excavated from the pyramids of Egypt. Indian chapattis, the bread equivalent was made perhaps right since the Indus civilisation, as grain cultivation began then. And the most infamous reference to bread in history is draped in the legendary story of Marie Antoinette, the queen of Louis XVI who, when told by her advisor that the people of France are starving because there is no bread to eat, ordered him to tell them to eat cake; purportedly the main reason why Antoinette had to face the guillotine and consequently ‘democracy' was born. Not surprisingly, the plain old loaf of bread is just as versatile as it is old and legendary. Thanks to the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, too busy gambling to stop for food, ordered a waiter to bring him roast-beef between two slices of bread so he wouldn't get his fingers greasy, the ever popular fashion of using bread, ‘Sandwiches' was born.

In addition to the multitude varieties of sandwiches, subs, burgers and uses of fresh bread, stale bread too is equally useful. While buying, lightly squeeze for freshness; a softer loaf is generally fresher. But don't discard stale bread or the bread ‘heels' (ends of the sliced loaf – actually believed to be the healthiest part of the bread), they actually enhance many dishes. The end crust or heel also makes a handy spoon rest while cooking.

Chop and fry them to make croutons for soup. Dry and crumble them in a blender to make bread crumbs. Bread crumbs can be used as stuffing and coating cutlets before frying. Line a greased cake tin with fine breadcrumbs before adding the cake mixture. The cooked cake will turn easily out of the tin, with a delicious crust around the edges. Bread pudding, French toast and bread ‘upma' come out great with day-old bread. Short on boiled potatoes; add moistened bread slices to the mashed boiled potatoes, no one will know the difference. But perhaps the healthiest use of stale bread is Italian Panzella or Bread Salad. 4-5 slices of day-old bread are moistened, cubed and tossed with 2 cubed tomatoes, 1 cubed cucumber, 5-10 shredded basil leaves, a few thin onion slices, 1 tbsp vinegar and 3 tbsp olive oil; add salt and pepper to taste. Optional additions include garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper, capsicum, olives and chopped celery. Chilled or served immediately, this makes a great summer salad.

Quirky yet practical uses of bread include cleaning wallpaper, suede and oil paintings. Roll the soft part of a slice of fresh bread into a ball and gently clean off grubby marks around the light switch on wallpaper or smudges on a suede purse or shoes. Dust oil paintings by gently rubbing the surface with a piece of white bread. Pick up tiny slivers of broken glass by pressing the bread over the area. Before using an unused blender, run a piece of bread through the blender to clear out any dust. Get rid of the burnt taste and odour of slightly burnt rice by placing a slice of white bread in the pot on top of the rice while still hot. Replace the lid and five minutes later remove the bread slice. Even the odour of cabbage when cooking can be minimised by placing a slice on the lid. When baking greasy foods place two or three slices of bread in the drip pan to absorb the grease and decrease the smoke; makes cleaning easier too. Thread a cube of bread on the handle of a knife before chopping onions to absorb some of the odour and to reduce the tearful experience to a certain extent.