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.

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Cathy Ballou Mealey
2 years ago

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.”



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