Misty Water-Colored…

Ah, memories. I spent a little time over on Sam Henry’s blog and she wrote something about her mail carrier which sparked a trip down my own memory lane.

When I was a boy, I grew up in a small town, far from major metropolitan centers and urban sprawl, and from what most would think of as rural areas too. It wasn’t the country, and it wasn’t really the suburbs – not as people know them closer to those metro areas, anyway. It was a bedroom community, and little homes dotted the town nestled beside its retail outlets and main drags of strip malls and gas stations.

Down on the waterfront, 4th Street ran east-west along a curving patch of land yawning down to the river. In those old brick-and-mortar buildings, businesses as old as the town and roads themselves huddled and did their private industry thing in the shadow of hulking factories for places like US Steel and Johns-Manville. Beyond the factories lay the black waters of the delta, where the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers spat into each other’s mouths and swapped fluids of brackish-brown seep down to the Bay.

Along that tiny, pot-holed drive of 4th Street squatted a three-story building with a sign over the main door that read Cardinale’s Bakery. And from this tiny, unassuming facade wafted the most wonderful smells of my childhood.

Bread. French bread, baked fresh. Sourdough – my favorite, and a flavor which is impossible to duplicate because the started molds only thrive in San Francisco’s climates and brick ovens and is shipped to Cardinale’s – still makes me stop in my tracks. They had it all – sour, sweet, hard, soft, dense, light, baguettes and sandwich and dinner rolls. Mouth-watering, warm, steamy and fresh each and every day.

And each and every day, some of that bread would be loaded into a metal rack on large baking sheets along with the fresh pastries, danishes, doughnuts, and coffee cakes. The driver would wind slowly up and down the suburban streets, with the bakery logo emblazoned on the side of the van, and homemakers and children not yet in school would come out to meet him. Bread could be bought and I always had my soft, warm powdered sugar doughnut as a treat.

He was the Bread Man, and just like the milk man, he came on a regular basis and we purchased his wares. And there is no comparison to store-bought bread, neither chain-restaurant doughnuts, nor coffee-house or grocery store pastries and baked goods. Cardinale’s has no equal anywhere, in my experience, and of the many wonderful foods I grew up with – and there are so many! – it is perhaps Cardinale’s fresh, warm, steamy, crusty French bread I miss the most.

What childhood memories do you pine for in your quiet times? How many are tied to food? Or is that just the machination of a fat man?

Sound off, y’all. I want to hear from you.



9 thoughts on “Misty Water-Colored…

  1. I really want some fresh bread right now. I might have to settle for Tim Horton’s cheddar cheese bagel.

    Well, it’s a shame to have to settle, but I daresay nothing you could get would equal what I’m talking about anyway. And a cheddar bagel sounds pretty awesome. 😉

  2. Every Sunday after church, my mother would take me and my brother to the Old Bread Mill Bakery and get bread for the day. I’d also get a couple of croissants for a treat. It’s hard to find a really good croissant these days.

    No kidding; the packaged ones are crap, aren’t they? It’s almost a lost art, croissant baking. 😦

  3. I’m third in this bread line of yours! What a wonderful tale and told with talent that is stellar. I was transfixed – and linked, yet. Thank you. But this is real writing, real “at the bottom of a cup of tea” Proust writing.

    Well! Thank YOU, SamHenry. What a wonderful compliment. I’m grateful. 🙂

    My childhood memories are a mix of pain and pleasure as are most of ours. The food favorites then were home made ice cream from a place that closed and the nasty woman took the recipes to her grave; cheeseburgers at one stand I remember where I used to say to the cook “easy on the cheesy;” penny candy (those swirl things that were kind of butterscotch colored with white; fried cakes cooked by my grand father doctor who did them the way his mother cooked them; the taste of sweet grass hanging out of my mouth as I sat in a field at the farm; following the cows on their path, riding in grandpa’s old farm truck with the metal strip in the middle of the window; riding on the back of he mower as a kid; trolling for rock bass at night at the lake; sleeping under a tree in summer; and having all of these fine times crowd out the bad. Thank you DK. You are a gentleman and a scholar and a good writer and stirer of thought and emotion.

    Well, I can’t speak for the last line, but I loved these warm, sunny, sepia-toned moments you’ve shared. Stories, one and all. Write ’em before someone else does, SH. 😉

  4. When I was a kid there was a bakery down the street called The Little Pie Shoppe. Everything there was freshly baked and delicious. There was always a stack of sugar cookies behind the counter to be handed out to children who came in with their caregivers. I can still taste those sugar cookies, crumbling in my mouth. They had the best of everything at that bakery. Now they’re gone and nothing else measures up to their standard.

    That is precisely what happens to me with sourdough bread anywhere else in the world aside from the Bay Area. The mold simply doesn’t grow anywhere else. It can’t be duplicated. I miss it, but not enough to consider living in that nut-hatch again. 😉

  5. We had the bakery-after-church tradition, too. It made me so happy to learn that L&M Bakery of Delran, NJ, is still in operation, still wowing new customers, shipping their wares even… and has a Facebook fan page!

    You’ve signed up as a fan already I’m sure, right? Why wouldn’t you? Awesome!

    I’ve got a ton of childhood memories. And love that so many of them are so easily triggered by the sense of smell. I could swear I even remember the smell of the chrome handlebars on my bicycles. But that’s impossible, right?

    Not at all. You’d be amazed how many things have a scent. (Everything.) 😉

  6. My dad was a chef, but I don’t have many lovely memories of food. The best bread I ever had was in Bulgaria–bread baked in a stone oven before dawn in a monastery in the mountains. My boyfriend and I ate the bread while leaning against the stone wall and the sun began to peer in the courtyard. A little while later my boyfriend officially proposed!

    Generally though, I’m not much of a food person.

    I’m a lard-a$$, and there’s a reason. 😉

    My best memory of where I grew up is sitting on the dock in front of our house, watching the sunset and the blackbirds cover the little island in the lake. Come to think of it, I would be eating tangerines until my lips burned. I LOVE tangerines.

    Thanks for making me think of this.

    My pleasure! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  7. Mmmmm…. that sounds so wonderful. My best childhood baking/cooking memories came from one of my grandmothers who was a truly excellent cook. When I was small she still baked her own bread. Thanks for bringing back some lovely memories.

    I love hearing about food memories for people. Thank YOU for coming by and sharing! 🙂

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