YOU SEE THEM CASTING FURTIVE kitchenward gazes after a good dinner of roasted chicken or perhaps beef or lamb, excusing themselves with a piece of bread and trying not to run. Shortly afterward, stifled sighs waft back to the dining room.
Did I say “them?” I mean we. The Brotherhood of the Dunk.
The Brotherhood is a fine example of what ethnologists call Mystery Schools. These institutions, which flourished in Greece and Egypt at appropriate times in their country’s histories, were religious cults whose worship was based on an initiate’s experience of something — something wordless and immediate, so all-encompassing and clarifying that it couldn’t be shared unless, perhaps, through the eye-spark of mutual recognition.
For in truth, no words can truly substitute for the experience of dipping a piece of crusted bread into warm rendered golden animal fat, swiping up the pan-cracklings and biting into the result. The tang of drippings-soaked bread caresses your nostrils; the smooth liquescence balances and softens the dry crunch; the mouthfilling chorus of bitter sour salty sweet; the elusive fifth flavor whose harmonies transform the products of baker’s oven and roasting pan into something akin to what the angels, if they exist, must eat. (And if they don’t exist, then there’s more for the rest of us.)
Great care must be taken with this art, whose practitioners flavor it according to personal taste: some dunk only the inner, soft parts of the bread. Others use the crust to dislodge from the bottom of the pan toothsome chunks of blackened goodness. Still others will the soft side face down like a sponge, gingerly plucking at the rapidly softening crust and trying not to get their fingers too greasy. (Good luck.)
It is said that a man may be known by his dunkings, but I have seen little evidence to support this; some of the most otherwise timid souls I know dunk with a gusto and joie-de-vivre rivaled only by Paul Bunyan at a flapjack bar. Nevertheless, if a man tells you that you can find God in a piece of bread, don’t believe him — dunk for yourself.