The Midnight Baker

Mr Humpries was a welcome sight to many a family in the hungry 50s , and long before. I wonder how many people remember the gentleman.

Mr Humpries was almost blind, I never knew his first name, aided and abetted by his trusty sidekick, Pa. He had a bakery in Edward Street, this street sweeps down from Donnellys buildings to the Peoples’ Park and the railway station, an area Im sure is familiar to many people.

How Mr Humpries made bread was a mystery, he must have had a great sense of touch, looking back now he was Benny Hill’s charecter “Mr Scuttle” complete with the milk bottle glasses.

He made 2 kinds of bread, a “pan” loaf…and a ” cottage” loaf. The cottage was shaped like a squashed number 8 and made in lengths of perhaps 4 feet, and each cottage,about 4 inches wide, was peeled off from the length. The cottage therefore only had a cruse on the sides, top and bottom, leaving the end cottage with a crust on the side as well, this was important as I will explain.

Mr Humpries had a small blue ford van, with the headlights sticking up from the mudguard, it was driven by Pa, and unlike most bakers who delivered bread, hot, early in the morning, Mr, Humpries delivered his bread to the avenue where I lived at 7 or 8 in the evening. In the winter it had been dark for a few hours by then, but it did not matter to Mr, Humpries, because he was blind anyway.

The van was very old and frequntly broke down. The solution was a simple one, Mr Humpries used to borrow a horse, and tow the van on the rounds, with the horse harnessed to the van…I kid you not.

He had a great sense of touch, with his outstreched arm holding 10 or 12 cottages, his other hand would feel its way along the fences in front of the houses and he knew the house he was at by the feel of the fence or the hedge. He also could tell how much money he had in his hand by the feel of it when you came to settle the bill every friday night.

I once eat Mr Humpries bread and found and spat out a tooth,that was inside it caused a little comment around the table.I wonder if it was Mr, Humpries tooth?

To find hair in the bread was not unusal. It might have been human, or even perhaps horses hair, it bothered no one. From time to time when his van broke down it caused little comment, to see it with a horse pulling it making its way down the avenue, except to say he was a bit late tonight.

As I said, the 2 end cottages, we called the “crusty” were less saleable. Sometimes he would call with the bread, other times Pa would. We all hoped that Pa would call, because if he had a crusty, he would give it free gratis. If it was Mr Humpries that called the crusty was half price.

The crusty had an important use. A bread pudding would be made from it, (a mix of bread, milk, currants, eggs and sugar all baked in the oven).

Next to our avenue was the cattle market (on Mulgrave St.) and the cows would be sold on the Saturday. The farmers would never milk the cows on that day (perhaps to show the size of the udder) and after the auction, before the cattle were taken away, nobody bothered if you milked them. This was the source of the milk for the bread pudding. The half a dozen chickens we had supplied the eggs.

Who remembers Mrs Cusacks farm on Garryown Road, she delivered milk in the area , had big churns, from which she sold milk from her farm.Her donkey and cart was a familiar sight. Many time I went out for the milk, with the “canny” and she dispensed the it with a 1 pint cup with a long handle and she always gave a “tilly” (a bit extra”). So Mrs Cusack was the source of the milk and the eggs, the sugar could be had from “baldy” Hartnett, a gentleman who had a shop on the corner of Mulgrave Street and Rossa Avenue. The bread puddings my mother made you could slice when cold, and was a great treat.

I cannot remember when Mr, Humpries stopped calling with his bread. I think it was sometime in the early ’60s. Someone said he died, and with him died a small piece of Limerick folklore.

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