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.