April 16, 1999 (Ira Pilgrim

Confessions of a Bread Freak

A bagel is a varnished doughnut.

Author unknown

I am a bread freak. The only thing that I like as well is chocolate. It all goes back to my childhood in The Bronx. For some of the time we lived less than a block away from an old-world bakery. The odor of baking bread made it worth waking up in the morning. Its most delicious products were several varieties of rye bread with marvelous flavor and texture. Compared to it, American white bread had the taste and texture of mushy paper. If you take white bread and dip it in milk and egg and fry it, it's pretty good, but basically it offers nothing that would add or detract from the flavor of whatever other food a sandwich contains.

The Slavic countries are famous for the quality of their bread. I once spent a week living in a student dormitory in Moscow. The food was the equivalent of hospital food, but the bread was marvelous. On every table was a platter of slices of a variety of breads. I lived on it and enjoyed it thoroughly.

I enjoy French and Italian breads, but they are really only worth eating when they are very fresh, preferably right out of the oven. In contrast, rye breads and pumpernickels are good for a longer time; although any bread tastes best when right out of the oven.

In this area, my favorite bread is an Odessa rye bread made by the Semifreddy Bakery in Berkeley. They also make a variety of other breads, including a seeded baguette that is delicious when fresh. Their other breads are equally delicious, depending on your taste. You can buy Semifreddy breads in many markets in the San Francisco area. The farthest north that they deliver is to the Petaluma Market, which is a wonderful market with a great selection of fresh fish and deli.

In Willits there is the Escape From San Francisco bakery and eatery. Its owner and baker is a bagel specialist whose rugged breads are also delicious.

When I was growing up during the depression, my mother had to save every penny that she could. As a consequence, she bought day old bagels. I didn't care for them. I though that the only thing that they were good for was to use as floats for fishing line. The first time that I tasted a fresh bagel, I was amazed at how tasty it was. Still, it didn't compare to other breads.

The modern bagel, as baked by Phil Roland in Willits, bears no resemblance to the traditional bagel, except for the hole in the middle. It is much bigger and has a delicious variety depending on what kind of flour and garnish is used. As you might suspect, my favorite is the rye bagel. Those bagels are garnished with a variety of seeds and onion flakes. They also have garlic bagels, blueberry bagels, and even chocolate chip bagels.

When I can't get these fine foods, I bake my own. It is very good, but it doesn't compare with the best of the professionally baked products.

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