Some of you may recall my inherited fascination with a little confection called the “crumb bun.” Not the “crumb cake,” which is an altogether different animal. The “crumb bun” was a staple of Italian bakeries in New York during the 1950s and 1960s. My mother was crazy about them. She passed the crumb bun gene on to me.
When we moved to California, my mother mourned the absence of New York crumb buns. Vendors tried to palm off different types of crumb cakes and some questionable, decidedly crummy, crumb buns. Grocery stores did not have them. Specialty shops did not have them. Even bakeries showed a suspicious lack of crumb bun knowledge.
When I was a little girl, cross country travel was still relatively exotic and we were a solidly middle class family. We rarely returned to New York after our move. Every time we did go, however, the first thing my mother typically put in her mouth after the plane landed was a real New York, Italian bakery crumb bun. As time passed, though, even New York did not have a steady supply of New York crumb buns. Family bakeries, like many small businesses, were dying as big box stores and grocery chains moved into the neighborhood. My family members who lived in New York were oblivious to the catastrophe that this entailed. They had been on a gradual crumb bun withdrawal process. To my mother, it was cold turkey.
My mother reacted to the disappearance of the greater New York crumb bun, by going into mourning. Still, she lived in denial. When we moved to Florida, she decided we needed to search for crumb buns. She reasoned that we were now on the east coast. She reasoned that a lot of people retire to Florida and maybe there were a few former New Yorker bakers who enjoyed getting up at 4:00am to make crumb buns. She did not believe the crumb bun was extinct. She believed they were just elusive, like some exotic bird that ornithologists stalk with great enthusiasm.
I did not know whether crumb buns were extinct or not, but I was perfectly happy to travel the state looking for them. I do not know if I had quite the level of enthusiasm and commitment that my mother did, but I did my best. Time after time, the crumb bun rumors proved unfounded and we did not find an acceptable rendition of the traditional New York crumb bun. We found a few possibilities, but none quite measured up to our standard. One of them felt like sawdust in the mouth. Another one had way too much lemon taste in the base. A crumb bun should not taste like lemon cake with cinnamon all over it. The most common problem with the crumb buns we sampled was an insufficient crumb to bun ratio. It was a sad state of crumb bun affairs.
Once, I thought I had an answer when I discovered that Buddy Valastro, owner of the Carlo’s Bakery of Hoboken and star of television’s “Cake Boss,” had a bakery in Las Vegas where there was a pretty good imitation of a true crumb bun. When I heard he was opening a store in Orlando, I was excited to introduce my mother to this “almost authentic” confection. Unfortunately, he did not stock crumb buns in the Orlando store. I take it as a personal failure that my mother never got another “real” crumb bun before she died.
When I went on my little beach getaway with my friend recently, we went to an Italian bakery in Fernandina Beach called Nona’s. When I looked in the window, I saw something that looked suspiciously like a REAL crumb bun. Finally, it looked like I had found my quarry.
I bought a crumb bun… and, eureka! It was moist and sweet and spicy. It had the perfect crumb to bun ration. There was no lemon aftertaste. It melted in my mouth, enveloping my tastebuds in a smooth, rich, delicious blanket of awesomeness. It was one of the best lunches I have ever eaten.
What is a delicacy that you remember from your childhood that no longer seems to be around? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a delicious day!