While rambling round the shelves of a second-hand bookshop, I came across a small recipe book cum memoir looking back to home cooking in the first dozen or so years of the twentieth century. One of the pages which caught my eye was about how bread used to be cut at home – particularly country homes. The loaf would be held against the housewife (and I daresay any male bread slicers) and a slice would be cut towards the aproned chest. I know it sounds odd, but that was the way people sliced bread. Did they cut themselves or their aprons? No they didn’t, the knives were sharp and they were expert at doing something every day.
I was interested to read this because I do remember seeing someone do this when I was a child; it wasn’t my mum or my aunties, or anyone in the family so maybe when I was little I was taken to visit an elderly person and watched, fascinated, as they cut a perfect slice. I decided to investigate, and found that many people recalled people cutting bread this way, and most said that the bread was buttered first. When I read that, I began to remember seeing someone buttering a loaf of bread she held under her arm. She had a bone handled knife wish a rounded blade and swiftly spread the butter back and forth in a very thin layer across the surface of the prospective slice.
On the page I was looking at about bread cutting and bread buttering, people wondered how they could spread hard butter on bread without it being in big lumps or tearing the bread. The butter wouldn’t have been so hard – no fridges in those days, and also the butter to be used for spreading would have been left near the oven/stove/fire/cooker – not so long that it melted but enough to be spreadable. I’m not ancient, but I remember mum getting me to soften the butter beside the fire in the sitting room so she could spread it. I guess these days most people have sliced bread, and many people have spreadable butter, which contains oil to make it softer.
My featured image is from a drawing by Doris E. Coates dated 1936