malt bread memories

Is it just me or do certain things you eat and smell evoke memories of your childhood or youth? Tonight we had malt bread. I can’t remember the last time we’d had it; it wasn’t 25 years ago or anything like as long but instantly it reminds me of being at home as a kid. Memories of what, 45 years ago? My father Bob was a breadman, a humble job you’d think but he was the best breadman in Blackpool at a time when every home, hotel and boarding house servicing some 10m people a year served or used bread and butter for every meal in the day. He was the man. He’d sell 3 big van-loads of bread a day when most guys would struggle to do one full van-load. In the bakery where he worked he was revered. I know because from the age of 15 I was working inside the plant during school vacations. I was always introduced as Bob’s lad and accorded special attention whilst I was always told in a second breath that I had an unenviable job to live up to his reputation. I never felt anything but pride at that.

But where’s this ramble going? The point about Bob was that every night he’d bring home the shopping from his rounds – he know the best butchers, groceries etc where he’d do his deals plus of course he bring home stuff from the bakery. We weren’t poor but we were a working class family. However the evening meal was always taken seriously in my home. We’d always eat as a family at the dining room table – never, ever in front of the TV. We’d always have main course, often ‘starters’ and/or bread &b (of course) plus ‘afters’. This was invariably cake or something sweet from the bakery but always something different every night. Malt bread was a regular treat but it could be battenburg cake, eccles or chorley cakes, eclairs, custard slices etc. I can’t eat any of them now without evoking memories of the evening meal, with Bob telling us about his day, mum hers, then inviting us to recount our daily experiences. If the conversation was slow Bob would throw in a hand grenade of a thought about education or health care or politics. He was a trade unionist and a mild socialist but would graciously defer to mum’s pragmatic conservatism over contentious issues. But we had to argue a case; he’d never preach but he’d expect an opinion.

I loved the meal time atmosphere and it was not dissimilar with our own family. But how can something as simple as opening a packet of malt bread make me reminisce like this. The smell of baking bread releases hundreds of memories of those days in the bakery. I love that smell. I was with my daughter and her family these last few days and the smell of my new baby grandson makes me think of our girls when they were his age. It’s something deep within my psyche which must being triggered. The taste of jelly and carnation milk (which I haven’t had in decades), the smell of haymaking/new mown grass, the taste of my nan’s apple pies, the smell of wintergreen in changing rooms – these are all sensations I’m now remembering as my sense memories have been stimulated by this writing.

Is this a personal thing or do you get similar sensations from time to time? Keep it clean folks…


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About Paul

Having decided on a change of life by moving home from the UK to Italy, this is the story and thoughts of a man on a personal journey from the Blackpool Tower to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, in search of la dolce vita. After several olive harvests he's now back in London but en route he shares his very personal perspectives on life.

4 thoughts on “malt bread memories

  1. Hey PP

    You have hit on one of the greats of human behavioral physiology.

    The sense of smell lies deep within the pysche, and is a strong emotional trigger to memory. and has been picked up by the great thinkers of time e.g.

    “When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls· bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory” -Marcel Proust “The Remembrance of Things Past”

    So you are in good company there for a working class lad!

    From my own research I think the sense of smell operates at two levels;

    1) The Limbic System

    A primitive part of the brain which stores memories and emotions, directly linked to the main ‘organ’ of memory in the brain – the hippocampus. The sense of smell is processed in the surface cortical layers, but also deep within the mid brain, and it is this deep processing that affects memory and the limbic system.

    2) Autonomic Nervous System

    In evolutionary terms the sense of smell was more reliable than sight, allowing the individual to seek food (and tell whether it was good or bad), smell predators, smell aggressors (as a football fan I bet you can still recognise the smell of a Leeds fan PP!), smell the pheromones of a possible partner and follow a trail left by companions. Sight is the most impactful sense, but is short lived – and obviously doesn’t help much in the dark!

    The Autonomic Nervous System controls our base instincts – often known as the fight or flight & rest and digest options.

    So, the smell of malt bread links you directly to the memories of home and baking, and also instantly relaxes you as it stimulates the rest and digest functions of your autonomic nervous system.

    BTW, malt loaf with a thick slice of butter on it is pure heaven!

    Keep up the good work PP


  2. chas
    wow. thks for the info, fascinating. i can understand how the sense of smell can be so deep-rooted if it was so necessary to survive originally. thing is i find the smells which are evocative are the ones for fond memories only. interesting stuff eh? well it is to me!

  3. I think you are absolutely right, I’m making a batch of Sloe Gin (not sure why I capitalised that) at the moment and 2 days ago it smelt exactly of model aero fuel! More than that, it smells of a particularly hot blend with 15% nitromethane which was always saved for my biggest and best control line stunter from when I was around 12-13.

    Now, I’m not sure I want to drink the stuff (despite being a petrol head) unless it matures considerably over the next month, but I have just found and bid for on ebay; the very same 0.15cu aero engine I used to have.

    And hey, what about the smell of a brand new car, or a very very old one?

    Farley’s Rusks
    an open fire
    a wine cellar (cave)

    Powerful stuff, I’m off to Tesco’s for a malt loaf

  4. hey pat
    blimey this is an old posting – i’d forgotten about writing it! but thanks for the comments mate.

    i’ve no idea what a control line stunter is but i’m fascinated that the fermenting sloe gin has evoked the smell of the nitro fuel. and it’s proven so evocative that it’s convinced you to buy a model again. now that is real proof of the power of the sense of smell on the memory eh.

    really liked the other examples too.

    i’m not sure i want to remember the smell of de-frosted fish in our freezer in italy recently but i think it’s locked in the mind’s databank now. i’m off to make a crumpet to override the memory recall facility.

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