I’m not sure when I was first introduced to day-old bread.
Sometime in the early- to- mid-1960s my mother discovered a Kern’s Bread Thrift Shop in Cookeville, Tenn. That’s when she began to take an occasional trip to Cookeville to purchase day-old bread. Back in those days, that was considered a rather long trip by motor vehicle. I recall her telling me she took one of her long-time friends Mable Ellenburg along when she made a bread run.
When my older brother, Tom, enrolled at Tennessee Tech in the fall of 1966 he became the bread-runner.
When my mother purchased day-old bread, she didn’t buy a loaf or two … or three. She bought a car load. She would let down both back seats in our 1961 Chevrolet Parkwood station wagon and fill up the back with bread.
You can fit seven loaves of bread in a big brown grocery sack. Two rows of three loaves slid in easily. Then, you can pooch the side out and get one more loaf in the sack. One sack … seven loaves. My mother usually spent about $10 when she loaded up on day-old bread. At 10 cents a loaf, that’s 14 sacks of bread. When I say she filled the back of that station wagon up, I’m not kidding.
On the right-hand side, and slightly behind our house, stood a building we called the front shop. The shop featured a storage shed on the left side. A heavy, shelf-type ledge, built two feet above the concrete floor, was located at the back of the shed.
On that ledge sat a monstrous chest-type deep freezer. A wooden, Army-green foot locker sat on the floor in front of the freezer and served as a step-up for getting into the freezer. That freezer became home for all that bread.
I have vivid memories of that station wagon backed up to the front shop as we unloaded the bread. The sacks were walked to the back and each one was lowered into the freezer.
Four growing boys and a little girl can eat a lot of bread.
There were countless times, just before a meal, when my mother would say to one of my brothers or me, “Go out to the shop and get a loaf of bread.” Off the bread-runner would go.
I remember as a boy the difficulty I had in getting the freezer lid fully open while standing on that foot locker. I had to stretch and stand on the tips of my toes. If the bread supply was getting low, you had to almost stand on your head as you reached down in the freezer to snare a loaf. It’s a wonder one of us didn’t fall over into the freezer.
Of course, there was no danger of one of us freezing or suffocating if we had fallen in the freezer. Someone would have been sent to look for us when we didn’t come back with the bread.
One of my favorite treats when I was growing up was a slice of fresh, king-thin, Colonial bread. That was the softest bread ever. Day-old bread was no match for fresh Colonial bread.
But we found out very quickly that toasting the bread made all the difference in the world. We ate a ton of toasted bread at our house. I learned that you can get 12 pieces of bread on a cookie sheet if you know what you are doing. Turn the oven on “broil” and you are in business.
And there are certain advantages of working with frozen bread.
It is quite difficult to spread cold butter or margarine on fresh bread. Not so with frozen, day-old bread. It’s hard as a brick.
And here’s something else. By the time it’s toasted, it’s thawed.
For years at our house we made toasted cheese sandwiches on day-old bread … delicious. Then, in 1964, I went to work as a short-order cook at the G&R Dairy Chef. It was there I learned how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Bring on the butter and the black iron skillet! Day-old bread never tasted so fresh!
It seems nowadays that even fresh bread is not as fresh as it used to be.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me.
Seems whenever I put together a sandwich, I prefer my bread to be toasted. Maybe it has just become a personal preference. Or maybe, just maybe, it takes me back to a simpler time when my mother was a magician at making ends meet.
Jack McCall is a motivational humorist, southern storyteller and author. A native Middle Tennessean, he is recognized on the national stage as a “Certified Speaking Professional.” Copyright 2020 by Jack McCall.