It is very rare in the columnist’s life that a story comes along that involves lard bread, our president, our soldiers on the front lines and a local baker, but this is just such a story.
The president, of course, is President Obama, whose relationship with, and affection for, lard bread, I must admit, is unknown.
But his connection to lard bread is now and forever part of history: On April 7, the president made a surprise visit to the troops in Iraq. Now, presidential security being what it is — and the situation in Iraq being what it is — Camp Victory in Baghdad was in a state of semi-lockdown for the entirely of Obama’s visit.
Some soldiers had no access to nourishment for hours, which is where the lard bread comes in. You see, Air Force Major Todd Schug just happened to have a stockpile. His sister-in-law, Park Sloper Trish Martin, sends lard bread to him in the cradle of civilization on a regular basis.
“I knew that the president would be arriving during our dinner hour and was wondering what I was going to eat since we would be behind closed doors for the entire time,” Schug wrote via e-mail from the killing zone. “Then, just as I was getting ready to go behind closed doors, [I remembered the] Caputo’s lard bread!”
Now, if soldiers are anything like journalists, Schug’s next paragraph would have described how he hid in a secluded foxhole and gorged himself on lard bread while his comrades in arms suffered in stomach-growling silence.
But Schug’s code of conduct forbade such selfishness, and he willingly shared the lard bread.
“I fed all 20 people that were in there with me,” he said. “I told them the story of my favorite sister-in-law asking what I wanted and me saying ‘lard bread,’ not knowing if that was even possible.
“No surprise to me, the lard bread was a huge hit and perfectly timed to help us get through the long hours of making the visit go smoothly,” Schug continued. “A couple of the guys even said they go through Brooklyn from time to time and will make sure to look up the bakery when they’re in town!”
Now, this is the point in the story where some columnists would give you a long digression about the history of lard bread. But as far as I’m concerned, the history of lard bread is taking place now, right now, at Caputo’s, where owner James Caputo continues a tradition started in 1904 by his great-, great-, great-grandfather Vincenzo Caputo (who, for all we know, may have sent lard bread to our soldiers in the Philippines).
Don’t let the name “lard bread” fool you. Caputo’s bread is not some Crisco crap, but an ethereal blend of oil-soaked bread, thick-cut Italian salami, sharp cheese and black pepper. There may be some newfangled fennel-raisin-semolina twist breads that benefit from the organic fingers of a Yuppie baker, but there is no way of improving on Caputo’s perfect, old-school loaf.
And we can differ on whether our troops should even be in Iraq, but I think everyone can agree that people who are sent halfway around the world to engage in the messy business of war deserve a lard bread.
“It’s a way of showing my appreciation for the troops and what they’re doing,” Caputo told me on Wednesday, when Martin stopped by to pick up more lard breads for shipment to Iraq.
He said he hasn’t kept track of how many lard breads he’s sent to the soldiers, but Martin put it at close to 200. They sure beat those Meals Ready to Eat.
“A lard bread really fills you up and it holds up well, even shipped to Iraq,” he said, citing the generous oil and pork fat. “You can re-heat it and it’s almost perfect.”
Martin has been saying that since she was 15, when she got her first taste of Caputo’s lard bread after moving to Carroll Gardens from New Jersey with her family.
Her sister, oddly, moved to Arizona for college, and soon after married Schug. But she never forgot the lard bread, and Schug himself acquired a taste for it whenever he visited the family back east, Martin said.
That explains why he requested lard bread when Martin offered to send him a care package to Iraq.
She went to Caputo’s and bought four lard breads — but when James Caputo found out where they were headed, he refused to take any money.
“He always says, ‘Tell me how many you need,’” Martin said. “It’s so generous. “These are not 60-cent loaves. These are $4.25 lard breads.”
So that’s the story of the lard bread, the president and the Carroll Gardens baker. I hope you enjoyed it.
I know I did; after all, how many times can a columnist write the words “lard bread” in every single paragraph of a story?