Like everyone else, I tried making a sourdough starter in lockdown.
I ceremoniously called it ‘Captain Sir Tom Moore’ after the 100-year-old veteran who walked laps and laps of his garden to raise money for NHS workers. Sadly, that starter was a non-starter and I instantly regretted the name.
Then Sarah’s husband Jamie gave me a bit of his, ‘Mario’, a thriving firecracker of fermentation that gave birth to my newly named sourdough son ‘Luigi’. The naming was far more fun than the actual making, especially when you realise that the temporary mini oven you’re currently using doesn’t fit the loaf. After one trip to my neighbour’s house to borrow their kitchen, I concluded that breadmaking was too heavy a burden and settled for the bakery down the road. But at no point did I forego a slice of toast.
I was promised a piece of buttered toast in hospital after giving birth the first time. It never came and I wouldn’t have been able to stomach it anyway, but I have never forgotten that missed slice. Then there’s my dad’s ritual of spreading marmalade on cold dense brown toast every morning. Or Ayres Bakery’s white tin loaf or their other offering, the levain five-grain. Or challah bread that burns at the sides, which only intensifies the sweetness of the loaf, or, even sweeter, challah French toast for breakfast. Bread is a wonder, waiting for the perfect partner, so below are my mere – yet mighty – suggestions of how to pep up a simple slice of toast.
TOAST WITH MARMITE, PEANUT BUTTER AND CHEESE
This means teenage nights back at Jack Peñate’s after a house party. Alice was Jack’s girlfriend by now and I would sit and debrief Jack’s mum, Clare, while he noodled on his guitar in the background. Clare would host us round her kitchen table in the low light, in a chinoiserie kimono, Marlboro Light in hand, with the other hand tapping two tablets of Canderel sweetener into our cups of piping-hot tea. To my knowledge, she is the only person who still uses Canderel. Clare, along with the fiercely loyal Alice, would kindly indulge my delusion that there was romance in the air between me and Matt Weeks (a school friend I was mad about at the time). It was an unrequited romance, but they would conjure up potential in each missed moment, each misleading ‘you’re my best friend’. There was comfort in the smell of that fag smoke and the tap of the Canderel. With the cup of tea came a humble and excellent discovery, which, alongside her glamour and storytelling, will forever immortalise Clare as someone with great taste (and taste buds).
Her Marmite on toast:
2 slices of bread
Crunchy peanut butter
1. Toast the bread.
2. Spread butter on the toast.
3. Spread Marmite on the toast.
4. Add a generous slap of crunchy peanut butter.
5. Grate a light layer of Cheddar cheese over the top – the more mature the better.
TINNED SARDINES ON TOAST WITH KETCHUP
When I was off school sick, Mum would always let me get into her double bed, then go and make me a hot Vimto while I watched This Morning with Judy and Richard. It was like being on holiday, spread out in her queen-size bed. I would huddle under the covers, hoping that my temperature didn’t go down too quickly. By lunchtime I would be painfully bored. Mum would be downstairs working in the office and would offer up Campbell’s Cream of Tomato Soup with toast for lunch on a telly tray that had a cushion attached by Velcro, so it was just right for avoiding spillages on the duvet. Usually that hit the spot, but then I’d see Mum’s lunch. It was sardines on toast with a slather of ketchup along with a minestrone Cup a Soup. I probably only wanted a taste the first time because it meant not going back to bed, but, surprisingly, I loved it. The tinned fish mixed with the butter, the sweet tang of ketchup and a swift grind of black pepper was the perfect alchemy.
2 slices of dense brown bread
1 tin of sardines
Salt and pepper
Optional – a minestrone Cup a Soup
1. Toast the brown bread.
2. Drain the tin of sardines.
3. Butter the toast.
4. Mush the sardines on top of the toast.
5. Dance ketchup over the top, then season to taste.
ANCHOVETTE SPREAD ON TOAST
Our family friend, Jill Reichman gave my mum a pot of Peck’s Anchovette fish paste after one Pesach meal. It’s a South African anchovy paste, full of colouring and salt, and, heartbreakingly, it isn’t sold in the UK. Mum has been known to pay for the extra baggage weight of friends if they mention a trip to South Africa, on the assurance that they will return with vats of the stuff (that is if they get past customs).
Bread or matzo crackers
Peck’s Anchovette Fish Paste – find someone who is going to South Africa and get yourself a pot.
1. Toast the bread (or prepare the crackers) and spread with butter. Then slather a spoonful of the anchovette spread on either the buttered toast or matzo crackers. Trust me.
Omelette: Food, Love, Chaos and Other Conversations by Jessie Ware is out now (Hodder Studio, £12.99).