Wednesday, August 4, 2010


First of all, a word or two about Zwieback, swiped from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “Word of the Day.”

In ages past, keeping food fresh for any length of time required a lot of ingenuity, especially when one needed to carry comestibles on a long journey. One of the solutions people came up with for keeping bread edible for traveling was to bake it twice, thereby drying it and slowing the spoiling process. The etymology of "zwieback" reflects this baker's trick; it was borrowed from a German word that literally means "twice baked." Nowadays, zwieback is not just used as a foodstuff — the texture of the dried bread makes zwieback a suitable teething device for infants.
I don’t know about parents of today, but Zwieback was a staple at my house during those four years in the late 1950s when I had one or the other of my four kiddies teething. Zwieback was sucked and slobbered on and it made an awful mess on the kid’s face, arms, hair, high chair tray, floor and any other place that came in touch with it. But it kept them quiet and certainly must have made their poor little gums feel better.

This dictionary entry also corrects my family’s long-standing mispronunciation of the German word. It calls it “ZWEE-back.” No Germans in my heritage, I guess.

Aside from this, Zwieback brings to mind a picture (above) I came across during my recent slide digitizing project. This is my granddaughter Carley, taken poolside when she was just a little twerp. Her folks lived in San Diego and along with older daughter Stacey spent lots of weekends with us when we lived in Orange County. I'm sure the pool was the lure. Carley here is eating something – not Zwieback, obviously. But I’ll be darned if I can figure out what she’s holding. Here’s a blow-up of it...

and then of the rest of what-ever-it-is on her little lap.

I don’t know what her folks gave her to eat (I know it didn't come from MY cupboard) – but it surely looks gross. Actually, it looks far worse than a piece of Zwieback, that’s for sure. But it appears that Carley really liked it (????) a lot!

Regardless, a few questions come to mind. Do mothers of today still use Zwieback for their teething babies? If not, what do they use? Or if not, why not? Is Zwieback still being sold in the markets? Have you ever used it? Have you ever used it for anything else other than teething babies? Are there recipes besides pie-crusts that use Zwieback as an ingredient?

And most importantly, am I the only person in the world who has always pronounced it ZWY-BACK?

Thanks, Carley, for being so darn photogenic!


Olga said...

Nope, I always thought it was ZWHY, too. I haven't seen that for ages, but then I haven't been looking either.
It kind of looks like a fortune cookie on her lap.

Anonymous said...

In German, one sees "ei" and "ie". The pronunciation follows the second of the two vowels. Thus, zwiebach has the long "e" sound. Bernstein, as in Leonard, has the long "i" sound.

Up here in NorCal, the yokels misprununciate "Gravenstein" (the apples) as GravenstEEn.

No doubt this common mispronunciation has its root in the desire of new immigrants to America to fit in - to change the pronunciation to the "American" way of saying it. That is why that Boston basketball team is wrongly called the Selltics - any Irishman worth his salt would bristle at this, it's Kelltics (they're the Celts, not the Selts).

Anonymous said...

I should also add that being a musician, it greatly offends me to hear someone pronounce Lenny's name incorrectly.

I recently attended a concert of the local Sonoma Valley Chorale (a fine group) who performed Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and some unusual Broadway music of Lenny's (I think it was Peter Pan). The music director gave a pre-concert talk in which every mention of his name was correct. During the show, the assistant director gave her talk in which she sometimes said it correctly, but mostly it was wrong. Go figure.

I make it a point to correct every musician I hear mispronounce his name. "He called himself BernstEYEne, why can't you?"

Bobby Gail said...

"Seltics" drives me crazy! "ZwY-back" not so much! :)

Stacey said...

I am not sure what it is, but she sure is cute...she has always been photogentic!!!