Heidi Bread

I real­ized (again) over the win­ter hol­i­days this year that much of hol­i­day friv­o­li­ty cen­ters on food. I’d have it no oth­er way, myself, but I must say that after a couple/few weeks of eat­ing grand meals, too many sweets, and grab­bing tea/coffee more often than usu­al, I crave sim­plic­i­ty when I sit down for lunch in the mid­dle of a writ­ing day. Soup and sal­ad is good, of course — and just what the body needs after too much food and drink — but this last week, I find that I’m hun­gry for some­thing more…fundamental. Basic. Easy. Warm and fill­ing with­out being exces­sive.

And so I’ve been eat­ing Hei­di Bread.

If you don’t imme­di­ate­ly know what this is, let me jog your mem­o­ry with a scene from Hei­di by Johan­na Spyri.

 The ket­tle soon began to boil, and mean­while the old man held a large piece of cheese on a long iron fork over the fire turn­ing it round and round until it was toast­ed a nice gold­en yel­low on each side….. Then he brought her a large slice of bread and a piece of the gold­en cheese, and told her to eat….

Was the milk nice?” asked her grand­fa­ther.

I nev­er drank any so good before,” answered Hei­di.

Then you must have some more,” and the old man filled her bowl again to the brim and set it before the child who was now hun­gri­ly begin­ning her bread, hav­ing first spread it with the cheese, which after being toast­ed was soft as but­ter…..

I have such a vis­cer­al mem­o­ry of read­ing this scene as a child. Per­haps I was hun­gry, but I could taste that cheese and bread washed down with milk. I’d cer­tain­ly nev­er been any­where like the Swiss Alps, but I knew some­how that this sim­plest of sim­ple dish­es would be unlike any­thing I had ever eat­en. (Side note: when I did make it to the Swiss Alps as an adult I was ever so slight­ly dis­ap­point­ed that nobody served me Hei­di Bread. But I learned about museli and full-fat yogurt, so the trip was worth it.)

I remem­ber ask­ing my moth­er if we could make Hei­di Bread. She was not up for the long iron fork over the fire but sug­gest­ed we use the toast­er oven to approx­i­mate the dish. She under­stood that this was not a toast­ed cheese sand­wich I was after. My Mom made home­made whole-wheat bread and she cut a thick­er than usu­al slice of it, put some cheese on top—not Velvee­ta, but col­by cheese also thick­ly sliced — and popped it into the toast­er oven. It was absolute­ly an accept­able vari­a­tion. One has to work with what is avail­able, after all.

When I read Hei­di to my own kids, they too — and I swear I did not lead them into it — were fas­ci­nat­ed with the cheese melt­ed over the fire and spread on the bread. I explained it was called Hei­di Bread. They imme­di­ate­ly want­ed it for lunch. With a bowl — not a cup — of milk. We were read­ing out­side and #1 Son pro­cured a stick he thought might work for the cheese toast­ing. (Nev­er mind we did not have a fire in the back­yard.) I gen­tly sug­gest­ed the toast­er oven vari­a­tion. And because I also make whole-wheat bread reg­u­lar­ly, I was able to cut thick rus­tic slices and top them with thick­ly sliced cheese. (Some­how thick­ness makes it feel more authen­tic.) We poured milk in cere­al bowls and feast­ed, agree­ing that it was entire­ly deli­cious and a most­ly accept­able alter­na­tive to the iron fork over the fire. We also agreed maybe we would try that camp­ing sometime…and I can’t think if we’ve done that or not (yet!)

To this day we call this sim­ple meal Hei­di Bread. It makes an excel­lent lunch. I’m not so much for the milk in bowls part, but a few pages of this clas­sic nov­el is an excel­lent accom­pa­ny­ing side. I com­mend it to you.

2 Responses to Heidi Bread

  1. Cathy Ballou Mealey January 11, 2020 at 10:21 am #

    Hei­di bread” as you call it, is as indeli­ble a lit­er­a­ture mem­o­ry for me as is Jo burn­ing off Meg’s hair in Lit­tle Women. Unfor­get­table!

    When I was lit­tle we had a wood stove, and ched­dar cheese. Even though I was *not* sup­posed to touch the stove, I can report that those two items do NOT make any­thing near­ly as won­der­ful as “Hei­di toast.”

    • melanie January 11, 2020 at 11:15 am #

      HA! Glad it’s not just me who remem­bers the scene fond­ly!

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