Story: “BREAD” by Ron Persaud

 Story: “BREAD” by Ron Persaud     

I recently volunteered to pick up and deliver the weekly donations of a supermarket to a church. Much of it is bread (not the kind you spend) which is nearing the end of its shelf life.

Last week, on the drive home, my thoughts meandered from stale bread to black cake and stopped at “Jack’s Baker-shop” – on James Street half way between Hunter and Barr streets in Albuoystown.

On the wall above the recessed counter Dictator Bakery  was prominently and proudly proclaimed the name and nature of the establishment; while behind the main counter one or two women in full uniform with “starch and iron” aprons and caps would take your request (one just did not order) and put the items in your basket if you had one, or wrap the item in white paper (lesser shops used brown paper). If the purchase qualified for a paper bag, the attendant would put the items in one, pinch the top corners between thumb and forefinger and swing the bag in a complete circle a few times and your purchase was sealed in.       

The paper bags were a quality product of a manufacturing plant  somewhere; not the homemade brown paper bag made by deftly folding a sheet of brown paper and strategically smearing ‘Gum Arabic’ or “Gloy”TM  paste to hold the whole thing together. We had a basket that was dedicated for buying bread. It was beautifully crafted with sides that had a wooden dowel across the top end.  These could be folded over to meet and both ends of the two dowels would be secured by sturdy little loops strategically placed to assure a complete and firm cover over the contents.

At one end of the shop, the bespectacled unsmiling Jack sat, collected the money and made change. He was an amputee but it was difficult for me to confirm that – so private and forbidding a presence was he. His wife (or daughter maybe) was very pleasant and definitely more approachable. Only once did I witness a departure from orderliness at the shop. It must have had something to do with the war and rationing. The crowd of customers spilled on to the pavement outside and people were very restless. The presence of my uncle allayed my fears – somewhat; but I was very relieved when we were headed home with dinner in the bread basket. The shop had a good reputation throughout the city; and people would come from Kitty to Albuoystown to buy bread.

Only one other shop that I know of had a similar reputation; “Ramadhin’s Parlour ” (Pouri and Potato Ball) at Middle & East streets. I have heard of “Hunt’s Cook Up” (24/7 service) and one or two Black Pudding vendors whose customers reportedly came from as far as Plaisance. Regrettably, cultural eating taboos precluded any journalistic investigation into these delicacies at that time; it would be many more years before I became an ‘omnivore’ (if you catch my drift).

Bread seemed to have a hierarchical classification. Two phyla could be Pan-bread and Plait-bread.  Two classes – salt-bread and sweet bread. Two orders might be unflavored and flavored (aniseed bread). Species might be the individual loaf, named usually for their cost. There were the   penny (with its suggestive mastoidal ends); 3-jill, bit, bit’nahalf and the Shilling (when family from the country were visiting) loaves. Other ‘non-loaf’ species would have to be tennis roll, butter-flap, collar, round-the-world or roly-poly, coconut biscuit (with its scalloped edge) and of course black-cake or Chester with which I had a pleasant gustatory relationship for the four years of my secondary-school education.

Every day, on my way home I would stop by the baker shop and buy a penny or four cents of black cake. At home I would make either a cup (small, enamel) of tea or cup (large, enamel) of swank. Our home had a half-door at which I would sit and enjoy the black cake. I did not care much for the pastry and would request a “middle piece” which had only two surfaces covered with the pastry. Occasionally it was denied; and on rare occasions there would be no black cake.

I wondered about this. After all, the bakery was a model of efficiency. Every bin had its product in proportion to how much was sold. People could ‘set their clocks’ when the oven was fired up and smoke rose from the chimney. How come no black cake on some days?

An old aunt answered the question. Black cake was made from stale bread!  At first I could not believe it but I got confirmation from other sources. It was disquieting news and for a long time I likened black cake to a fickle female.

But time heals all wounds. And absence has made the heart grow fonder.  I will bake some black cake soon. I guess that I will pull a recipe off the internet unless some kind reader will share his or her special recipe.

My wife wishes to disassociate herself from this endeavor. She considers my culinary skills lamentable and she plans to leave the house for the duration of event. I am going to need more help than even she thinks.

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  • Deen  On 08/26/2012 at 6:43 pm

    Ron, your nostalgic piece is filled with epicurean delights or as we would say in Guyanese terminology, “mouth-watering” delicacies. Yes, I’m a great lover of black cake too. Nowadays, I eagerly look forward to it at Christimas time when a specisl someone, who loves me and knows my gastronomical weakness, would bake me a black cake (or two) that is usually saturated with Guyana rum. What a treat! Oh! yes, I also remembered other dessert delights such as heavy bread, draps, bruk-mouth, red bread, etc. Perhaps you know these by other names.
    I’m from 78 Village, Corentyne and one of the most popular refreshments was Egbert Chan’s “mauby and white eye.” I recalled the bit loaf bread with the “mastoidal ends,” but we used to call those “the bubby.” LOL
    Anyway Ron, thanks for sharing your piece of “Bread” and good luck with your baking. Hopefully, you’ll be successful and share with us some more of your literary delights.

  • marc matthews  On 09/06/2012 at 11:45 am

    Wonderful recall, delicately baked and presented if yu know wuh ah meaning, um bad fuh days. writing d-talk. toosweet.

  • Wallyand Orloff.  On 12/22/2014 at 6:50 am

    Those were the days. Ienjoyed Them All.
    I am Trying to locate Patricia Chan daughter of Egbert or Caright Chan.
    Can you help.I go back many years with this family.

    • Sherry  On 01/07/2015 at 2:26 pm


      Patricia is my aunt. My dad is Sydney, son of Thomas Chan and nephew of Egbert.

      • Syd  On 04/19/2020 at 10:02 pm

        Actually, Sydney is the son of Gordon Chan (Egbert’s youngest brother) and grandson of Thomas Chan

  • Kay  On 08/07/2017 at 11:40 am

    That is not black cake. That is Chester. Black cake is not between pastry. Black cake is like a fruit cake except that the fruit is soaked in rum or wine and the cake is darkened with burnt sugar sauce.

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