Carmelo (better known as Nenu) and Angela Debono got married in 1973 and they were blessed with six children … three boys and three girls … all of them involved in the running of business concerns considered highly pivotal within the Maypole Group.
"If one had to see how Maltese bread is made one would immediately notice that there is no comparison in its quality, taste and strength especially when compared to that made abroad. Maltese bread is, actually, a particular and different kind of bread with its defining feature being that it can be eaten with any type of food and dipped in oil or stew, unlike foreign bread."
Nenu Debono is a baker hailing from Qormi and who has owned the Maypole Bakery along with his wife since the year they married and decided to open up their own business.
When asked whether it is better or worse that his whole family works in this business, Nenu replies that "This is such an important thing because, at the end of the day, you are surrounded by people who understand you. Even the fact that my wife is a baker is very important to me because she can help and understand better. Baking is the same as other trades and crafts. Taking a farmer as an example I cannot but highlight the importance that his wife is also a farmer because she can understand the everyday problems that her husband encounters. If she is not she has to become one."
The Maltese bread is very closely attached to Nenu's heart and he would love to continue working in order for this gastronomical tradition to remain alive and be given its own relative importance.
Such is his belief in Maltese baking that a few years back Nenu, once again, started baking brown bread (‘samra’). This tradition finds itself all the way from his father's times wherein, during the war, the bread was baked with the wheat along with the chaff in order not to waste anything. Up until a few years ago the chaff was given to the animals but he has introduced it into today's bread making methods once again as a health benefit.
From the moment that the Maltese bread is kneaded until it is actually taken out of the oven, the whole process takes around 7-8 hours. Nenu passionately exclaims that "for the small businesses this process is too expensive in order to wait for the dough to ferment the way it should as this takes a very long time. However, if the baker uses other methods in order to minimise the time spent on such a process, it will inevitably affect the quality of the product".
The bakers who work for Carmelo, in actual fact, do not only bake bread. Whilst they are waiting for the dough to rise, they proceed to do other work and it is for this reason that
Nenu manages to take out the maximum from his workers as they do not waste 8 hours of their shift waiting for Maltese bread to be worked as it should.
Moving on to another subject, namely whether the Baker's trade is heading towards a natural death, Nenu opines that "The young generation is not interested in baking. When the children see the hardship and long hours that their parents put into such a trade, they are immediately put off and not interested in taking over the trade. If one had to be honest, ultimately, one can easily state there is no profit to be made when producing Maltese bread. As a result what is actually happening now is that once the parents decide to stop carrying out the trade, there is no one to take over."
Furthermore, Nenu finds it difficult to employ new young bakers. “In Malta we do not have a school that teaches young students how to bake Maltese bread in the proper skilful fashion. One would have to find individuals who are willing to learn everything from scratch. Along with that we also send them to hygiene, health and safety courses” points out Nenu in a rather concerned manner.
Nenu continues by saying that, to add insult to injury, “even though it naturally depends on the individual, the process is a lengthy one. Even if you are the son of a baker, it still takes a certain amount of time in order to learn about the different types of pastry. Along with that, the weather and seasons affect this type of work. Secondly, one's hand has to get used to working the different types of dough and it is this which takes a considerable amount of time to learn. Nenu goes on to explain how important it is for there to be a continuous and stable temperature. One mistake carried out in the process of working pastry or in the temperature, results in a lot of hardship for nothing. There are times when one has to throw everything away and start afresh.”
Nenu compares this work, as it is done today, to that which used to be done quite a few years back. With the new technology that is being used today, Nenu believes that the trade is also being lost on these accounts. He goes on to give an example of how an experienced baker often uses his hands and experience in order to fully understand when the bread is actually ready to be cooked.
"Nowadays” Nenu reflects quite in a preoccupied tone, “the weight is being measured by the scales and a thermometer is used in order to check the temperature of the dough. In olden times even the water was brought up from the wells and measured without accurate weighing scales but rather one used to eyeball the amount needed.”
Nenu feels strongly enthusiastic about the possibility of exporting Maltese bread. He claims that he has both Maltese and foreign clients who buy Maltese bread to take it abroad with them and give it as a present to their relatives who live abroad. Unfortunately, although Maltese bread is very popular with these people it remains very hard to export it. Nenu is of the opinion that "It is much easier to export the trade than the bread itself. If one exports frozen or cooked bread, one loses a lot of the characteristics that are so special to Maltese bread, due to the fact that a lot of additives will have to be added. This obviously has a negative effect on the properties of a truly authentic Maltese loaf".