Somewhere, hopefully, there is a sociologist or anthropologist studying how and why local traditional foods appear on local public school menus. Growing up in Texas, it was burritos; teaching in north Florida it was sweet potato casserole. But today I'd like to draw that sociologist's, that anthropologist's, attention and yours to the case of Cuban bread in Tampa's school cafeterias.
For decades, Ybor City's La Segunda Bakery has made fresh, crusty loaves of Cuban bread for nearly 200,000 students in the Hillsborough County School District. Recently, demands to eliminate trans-fats from the lunchroom threatened to end this tradition. Fortunately, the bakery was able to tweak the recipe, cut the lard, and keep the contract.
The scent of Cuban bread has been a part of Ybor City for over one hundred years. In the nineteenth century, Cuban bakers stretched dough into long loaves, allowing more slices to be cut from a single loaf. Immigrants brought this bread style to Florida, where it lent itself to the creation of the Cuban sandwich. A palm frond placed on each loaf before it is baked creates a natural split the length of the bread. For decades, family-owned bakeries turned out hundreds of loaves each morning. The loaves were trundled down brick and dirt streets on carts or trucks to deliver families' daily bread. On each porch a nail stuck out from the wall by the front door, and upon this nail the delivery man impaled the bread.
Although many of the bakeries have gone out of business, a handfull still produce fresh Cuban bread to accompany each meal. Friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and business associates linger in cafes of a morning, dunking toasted and buttered slices of bread into steaming cups of cafe con leche. By enjoying local Cuban bread with their lunches, Tampa's students are partaking in a tradition that has been this city's the staff of life for more than a century.
Cuban Bread Video from Mauricio Faedo's Bakery Tampa Florida USA
"Dough! Not My Job: Cuban Bread Maker" (Tampa Tribune, April 30, 2007)
Kitchen Warfare's Cuban Bread (Tampa Style)
Visit the Ybor City Museum State Park to see a historic bakery and its oven (the museum is in the former Ferlita bakery), as well as the nail by the casita door where bread was delivered.