Archive for December, 2013

Tuesday poem: Ballad of the bread man

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Ballad of the Breadman
by Charles Causley

Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in the window
‘We’ve a job for you,’ he said.

‘God in his big gold heaven
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.’

Mary shook and trembled,
‘It isn’t true what you say.’
‘Don’t say that,’ said the angel.
‘The baby’s on its way.’

Joseph was in the workshop
Planing a piece of wood.
‘The old man’s past it,’ the neighbours said.
‘That girl’s been up to no good.’

‘And who was that elegant fellow,’
They said, ‘in the shiny gear?’
The things they said about Gabriel
Were hardly fit to hear.

Mary never answered,
Mary never replied.
She kept the information,
Like the baby, safe inside.

It was the election winter.
They went to vote in the town.
When Mary found her time had come
The hotels let her down.

The baby was born in an annexe
Next to the local pub.
At midnight, a delegation
Turned up from the Farmers’ club.

They talked about an explosion
That made a hole on the sky,
Said they’d been sent to the Lamb and Flag
To see God come down from on high.

A few days later a bishop
And a five-star general were seen
With the head of an African country
In a bullet-proof limousine.

‘We’ve come,’ they said ‘with tokens
For the little boy to choose.’
Told the tale about war and peace
In the television news.

After them came the soldiers
With rifle and bombs and gun,
Looking for enemies of the state.
The family had packed up and gone.

When they got back to the village
The neighbours said, to a man,
‘That boy will never be one of us,
Though he does what he blessed well can.’

He went round to all the people
A paper crown on his head.
Here is some bread from my father.
Take, eat, he said.

Nobody seemed very hungry.
Nobody seemed to care.
Nobody saw the God in himself
Quietly standing there.

He finished up in the papers.
He came to a very bad end.
He was charged with bringing the living to life.
No man was that prisoner’s friend.

There’s only one kind of punishment
To fit that kind of crime.
They rigged a trial and shot him dead.
They were only just in time.

They lifted the young man by the leg,
They lifted him by the arm,
They locked him in a cathedral
In case he came to harm.

They stored him safe as water
Under seven rocks.
One Sunday morning he burst out
Like a jack-in-the-box.

Through the town he went walking.
He showed them the holes in his head.
Now do you want any loaves? he cried.
‘Not today,’ they said.

(Used by permission of David Higham Associates)

I have used a reproduction of one of Stanley Spencer’s paintings of Christ in the wilderness because I love that sequence, and because this one – the ‘foxes have holes … but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head’ one – seems to chime well with Causley’s amazing poem.

For more Tuesday poems go to the main hub site, where a different poem is posted each week. Further poems can be found on the blogs of the Tuesday poet members in the sidebar.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Anzac Biscuits: an analysis of substance

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Some weeks ago I decided to make Anzac biscuits, inspired by a kind neighbour and friend who’d brought me a batch of them in aid of my recovery. Glen isn’t an Australian or a New Zealander, but her Anzac biscuits are nevertheless truly excellent. They are slightly resistant to the bite, but not too resistant, and not too crisp. Not exactly crunchy, either: crunchy is wrong for an Anzac. Not too much dessicated coconut (I don’t really like the taste of that but you can’t leave it out, it’s part of the Great Tradition). A little bit chewy, but not too chewy – more lively than chewy, actually. And that authentic deep background flavour of buttery golden syrup. Altogether excellent: thank you Glen!

(And here for a moment I digress, in case you don’t know about Anzac biscuits. Their origin is yet another historical food disagreement between New Zealand and Australia, like Pavlova, which both countries claim as their own invention. The invented Anzac biscuit history which both countries share is that the biscuits were sent to soldiers in the First World War, ‘ANZAC’ being an acronym for the ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’ who fought at Gallipoli. But it seems that those original and brave men had to make do with rock hard ships’ biscuits, and never got any Anzac biscuits at all. Read all about it here.) Maybe the Anzac biscuit already existed, and then had the name of the ANZACs attached to it. Digression ends.)

So, inspired by their deliciousness, I got out my Edmonds Classics recipe book. (Another digression is now required. The Edmunds recipe book is the biggest selling book ever published in New Zealand: over four million copies have been sold since the first edition of 1908. The book I have, though, is a relatively recent publication: my elder sister has possession of our mother’s edition of the original Edmunds book from the 1950s.)

Then I assembled the ingredients. I had to fight for the last tin of golden syrup in the supermarket aisle, too, grabbing it just ahead of a young man. “Flapjacks!” he offered as his excuse; “Anzacs,” I replied firmly, and he gave way. So then, as the triumphant owner of a tin of golden syrup as well as all the other ingredients, I made the biscuits. And blow me down, if the Anzacs from the Edmonds recipe weren’t classics at all: not in my view. They’re good, I don’t pretend they weren’t, but they did not – could not – match my idea of proper Anzacs.

Too plump.

Too soft.

Too close to the whole look and feel of an American oatmeal cookie.

How confusing is that?

We ate them, of course, and I even made a second batch and gave those away to two Australian friends, who loved them. (Maybe a soft, plump Anzac is an Australian speciality?)  And then I gave in, and asked Glen for her recipe. But when I read it – well, blow me down all over again, Glen’s recipe doesn’t have any bicarb in it!

No bicarb at all? In an Anzac biscuit true to the Great Tradition? Surely that’s not possible?

By this stage of the saga I’d put out a more general call for recipes, and now – for pity’s sake – I have four recipes, all subtly yet significantly different, one from another.

  1. One without bicarb, which I know tastes delicious even though it surely couldn’t be called a true Anzac.
  2. One that produced a soft, cookie-like result. Close– very close – but no cigar.
  3. One that was alluringly close to my memory of a true Anzac, but which veered just a tad too close to an over-crisp result for complete authenticity.
  4. One that had the relative balance of oatmeal and coconut wrong.

So I plan to spend at least some of the holidays testing batches of Anzacs. If I discover perfection (and the true Anzac) along that delicious path, I’ll let you know. And if not? Well, I’ll just start all over again with date loaf recipes, say I smugly, secure in the secret knowledge that I already have the perfect date loaf recipe… Oh, OK, secret no longer, huh? But still perfect.