So many bread products, so little explanation…

Posted on November 6, 2008 by pacificyorkshirebird

Ok, this is not exactly about accents and pronunciation, this is about the use of so many words to describe one item – bread.  It is just me or is there an abundance of bread products for quite specific purposes and many various names for each type?

I have a conversation at least once a month with a friendly-yet-pedantic-beyond-my-patience gentleman who shows up in some of the public places where I do outreach.  By the way, my outreach sometimes expands to healthy cooking (mostly to draw people in with free food samples) and occasionally I bake some muffins as part of this.  Anyways, this man and I have ridiculous conversations about the difference between a bun and a muffin.

He insists that muffins are what I would call an English muffin.  Whereas the item that I am baking is a bun meant for consumption with tea or as an afternoon snack.  Yet, other British people tell me that muffins are American breakfast items.  (and this sweet breakfast concept is shocking for many of these folks setting us off on the tangent of American obesity which is again not my sole responsibility)  When it comes to food I think I am pretty open minded and I am not bothered in the least about whether what I am eating is a bun or a muffin and whether it is the right time of day.  In fact, sometimes I have used an American recipe to make these so called buns.

The above is just an example of the confusing nature of naming bread products.  The British have a wonderful debate about what to call their baked goods – are they barms or bread cakes or bread rolls or what?  And crumpet vs muffin (the English kind) I don’t fully understand.  Some of this is explained by regional differences in language.  I think that is fascinating and I fully accept that this is part of the confusion for me.  But is it all regional?  I can go into a shop and have the option of crusty bread, farmhouse bread, thick sliced, thin sliced, bread made just for toasting, bread with a round top, bread with a square shape (I can’t even remember all the names of these types), rolls, loafs etc.  There are so many choices and each of these have a specific purpose.  British people find it amusing when I get the wrong bread as if I should automatically know what bread is the right one for every possible situation.

Is this a British thing or European thing?  And have you ever been told that Americans have ridiculous amounts of bread to choose from?  I have.  I accept that we have crazy sized shelves devoted to bread at supermarkets.  But I honestly think we have fewer choices and fewer rules about what kind of bread is appropriate for various uses.

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  2. Severs August 12, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Once upon a time, not so very long ago (copyright O. Postgate & P. Firmin) the regional dialect differences in Britain were enormous. In many parts of central Europe this is still the case.

    In the last century or so, these differences have been massively diluted. Certain aspects are still present (but at least we all count in base 10 now). Probably the greatest differences are in names for food; of these, the very greatest is in names for bread. Also, regional styles of bread persist, and we have enriched the selection by adding “foreign” breads too.

    Where I grew up (Teesside), a bun was a small round lump of plain bread intended for cutting horizontally and turning into a sandwich. at about age 8 I realised that “down south” these may be called rolls. I couldn’t figure out why; after all you are supposed to eat them, not roll them. My grandfather, who was a baker until age approx 45, explained.
    I was then horrified to learn that in some places a bun was a sweet onject! It was an abbreviation for “sticky bun”! Sacrilege!.

    At age 11 I started to learn German. After 32 years of sneering at the stunted vocabulary of that language, which serves only as a vehicle for extensive cultural and philosophical achievements (Pah! Amateurs), I finally learned to accept the fact that I would never be able to buy bread more than 30 miles away from my childhood home without getting the names wrong. And all because English-English supports about five times as many words or meanings of words as it could have got away with if those pesky Normans hadn’t invaded about 950 years ago.

    So if I can’t order bread without being (incorrectly) called a geordie now, in Huddersfield, a mere 70 or so miles from the land of my fathers, then I would advise you not to get too worried about the same problem, given that you come from the other side of the planet.

    As an addendum (because I’m trying to win the verbose waffler of the year award), I’ll add that I once went into “Price Chopper”, a supermarket in Schenectady, NY, on the instructions of my emigre sister, who had lived there for 5 years. I, on the other hand, had been there 5 days.
    Sis had told me to buy a big pack of “northern rolls”. I was surprised to hear my own sister using such a southern term, and even more surprised to hear of a “northern” roll. What manner of freakish bread bun were these monstrosities to be? No doubt, I pompously assured myself, it was all down to some yankee mangling of my beloved mother tongue. I hunted all over the bread area for about 20 minutes, and eventually gave in and asked the assistant. The assistant had never heard of such a type of roll. I was flummoxed.
    The assistant passed me to a manager, who, choking back tears of laughter, guided me to the other end of the supermarket and stood me in front of the toilet paper area. There they were – “Quilted Northern Rolls” are apparently a brand or type of bog paper. Or toilet tissue, if you wish. It had not ocurred to my slightly-americanised sister to specifically state that the “rolls” she wanted were not bread rolls, but bog rolls.

    I was careful eating her sandwiches after that. No, just kidding.

  3. Steve Shawcross July 29, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Bread rolls are called various things, depends where you are. “Stotty” in NE England. “Barmcake” in NW England. “Cob” in East Midlands. “Baps” in the south. “Teacake” in West Midlands. “Breadcake” in Yorkshire!

    Butty is just alternative name for a thick sandwich, usually bacon or chip butty.

  4. pacificyorkshirebird March 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Yes! Chip butties – definitely a new concept when I first arrived. “Butty” in itself was new – as were “bread cakes”. To me, it is an oversized roll or bun – but if I say bun here, people think I mean muffins, which apparently are American and only to be eaten at breakfast.

    But this is coming from a gal who will happily eat any type of food for any meal – I’ve been known to have porridge for lunch (before 12pm, gasp!).

    I think my general issue here is that there seem to be known social rules for the type of bread that is appropriate for certain meals. Mr. Charismatic thinks soup should always have crusty bread. I translated this to me “bread with crust on it” which was not what he meant. So, I feel vulnerable of getting bread wrong with my English guests.

  5. Stroppy Rachel March 24, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Baps = big bread cake

    Granary = bread with big bits of wheat in it.

    to make it even more confusing, I live between the only two towns in Yorkshire which use ‘teacake’ to refer to a breadcake. If you ask for a teacake anywhere else you get a fruited breadcake.

    I also found it very funny watching the Croatian wife of my husband’s best friend react to the suggestion of a chip butty: “Potatoes? With bread?” Her lip curled beautifully.

  6. notfromaroundhere March 24, 2009 at 9:41 am

    The two that I stumble across all the time but just don’t get: “baps” and “granary” toast. No idea.

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  8. peacefulyorkshire November 7, 2008 at 9:01 am

    I have never seen so many bread choices either– go to the Tesco bakery section and the next thing you know you will be drowning in carbohydrates!
    I usually just close my eyes and grab one. And i can never remember which ones I have tried before either…

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