“The smell of that buttered toast simply spoke to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cozy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.” ~ Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows, 1908)
Though most of you probably greet each new day worshipping at the ‘altar of drip coffee maker’, my wake-up appliance of choice is my humble yet decidedly adorable toaster.
Love this clever and well deserved ‘toast to toasters’ by Allan Chochinov. 🙂
ODE TO MY TOASTER by Allan Chochinov Ode to my toaster, so shiny and clean You’re the butterknife's foe, you're the bread's trampoline You're the lightest, the darkest, the coolest and proud You’re the jack-in-the-box of the countertop crowd. In the old days you had a side entrance instead You were far more ornate as a true thoroughbred But now you're a box with a push-button trick You're a bit more convenient, but a little too slick. And if that weren't sufficient to cause you some shame, There's your bullying arch-rival muscling in on your game They say big toaster-ovens are "double the tool" They can brown up a bagel and reheat your gruel. But don't be discouraged, I still think you're swell You do do one thing, but you do that thing well And though fancy new gizmos might stir up a yen, remember Your name still pops up, every now and again. ~ via Design Observer (2008)
I smile whenever I catch a glimpse of my creamy-shiny, chunky but cute Dualit toaster sitting happily on the kitchen counter. I bought it when we moved into our current home 22 years ago, and it has served us well.
I remember thinking at the time that it was a little pricey, but I decided to splurge anyway.
After all, I loved its classic design, and it was hand built in the UK with fully replaceable or repairable parts, meaning I’d never have to buy another toaster ever again. It’s been worth every penny.
Sure, there are many fancy dancy toasters on the market now, from artisan long-slots to gourmet four-slicers, to smart models with touch screen control panels, to $400 retro design beauties and electronic multi-tasking wonders able to do more than just toast a slice of bread.
But like Chochinov’s poem says, there’s something to be said for an appliance that can only do one thing, and do it well. Simple, no frills, enduring. It’s something to count on, isn’t it?
I do like knowing that my little toaster was born in Crawley, West Sussex, and has retained the essential features of its forebears, who date back to the mid 1950s: mechanical timer switch, removable crumb plate, friendly black peek-and-pop ejector knob. A real workhorse, it can toast hundreds of slices an hour — slices crisp on the outside, a little chewy on the inside. Dualit toasters were first made for commercial kitchens; even the QE2 has them.
Toast itself fits right in with my “all things British” obsession (although it was first popularized by the Romans). While living in London, I saw my first toast racks and enjoyed my first full English breakfasts, of which toast and jam were always an important part. I couldn’t quite get behind Marmite on toast, but made up for that with many Heinz beans-on-toast meals.
Some have called “toppings on toast” the national dish of Britain. With a nicely browned slice of bread as a blank canvas, the possibilities are endless: fruit jams and jellies, meats, cheeses, piccalilli, bone marrow, Indian paratha, bacon, spicy mustard — for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all three. Nothing haute cuisine snobbish about any of it.
Toast is a quick meal, easy to make, satisfying, and comforting (“starchy simplicity”). Is there anything more wonderful than waking up to the aroma of freshly toasted bread slathered with lashings of slow melting Cornish butter? And is there a more nostalgic childhood breakfast than eggs and soldiers?
British cookery writer Elizabeth David called hot buttered toast “a peculiarly English . . . delicacy.” Delicacy or not, it was hot buttered toast (with a fragrant cup of tea) that fortified a miserable, imprisoned Toad in The Wind in the Willows. The gaoler’s daughter brought him a plate “piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb.”
In Britain, toast has always been an integral part not only of breakfast, but of tea time. A simple “tea and toast” when one is not in the mood for a full afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, cakes, and scones, can really hit the spot. Think toasted rye, pumpernickel, sour dough or raisin topped with cream cheese, peanut butter, smoked salmon or sliced fruit. Will it be Irish Breakfast, Assam, or Earl Grey for you? 🙂
When the first British settlers came to America, they brought along their preference for toast at breakfast. This is probably why now most restaurants across the country serve toast with their egg dishes. IHOP or Waffle House, anyone?
Safe to say most of us probably take toast for granted. We simply toss bread into a slot, and up it pops a minute or two later ready to be devoured. Of course it wasn’t always so.
Centuries before electricity and my trusty Dualit friend were invented, people resorted to hot stones, wire frames, then toasting forks over an open fire or gas stove (for some reason this always makes me think of Lord Sebastian Flyte making toast in the fireplace in his Christ Church, Oxford, “rooms” in “Brideshead Revisited”). You needed time and patience to get your toast fixes back then (unless your servants toasted for you).
Two-prong, three-prong, ornate handles, some with small trays to ensure the toast didn’t fall into the fire — toasting forks were part and parcel of daily life. For toast lovers on the go, there were even telescopic toasting forks that folded up pocket size, sliding out of its handle in case a sudden need for toast arose (you just never know!). With this mania for toasting devices, it’s no surprise that as soon as electricity came on the scene, the toaster was the first household appliance to be invented after the lamp. Victorian priorities: 1) light, 2) toast.
It wasn’t until 1893 that the first electric toaster was invented by Alan MacMasters in Scotland. His Eclipse toaster was manufactured and marketed in Britain by the Crompton Company, and it could only toast one side of the bread at a time. It was also a fire hazard, since the wiring was all on the outside.
Fortunately, things improved quickly in the early 20th century, with various patents for safer heating elements and new designs coming mostly from the U.S. and Great Britain. The first commercially successful electric toaster (D-12 model), invented by George Shailor and manufactured by General Electric, was introduced in 1909. The porcelain base speaks to its intended use at the table rather than hidden away in the kitchen.
Charles Strite from Minnesota patented the first pop-up toaster for commercial use in 1921. A redesigned version under the brand name Toastmaster came out in 1926: it was the first pop-up household toaster with a timer, able to brown both sides of the bread simultaneously and then eject the toast when done. Miracle of miracles!
Once a bread slicing machine was invented a few years later, the demand for toasters skyrocketed.
Now, whether it’s Smeg, Sunbeam, Oster, Cuisinart, Black & Decker, GE, Breville, Hamilton Beach, or even Dualit, there’s a toaster for everyone, factoring in style, utility, space efficiency, and price point. So, let’s hear it for “bread’s trampoline,” the “jack-in-the-box of the countertop crowd.”
Love me, love my toaster (it even speaks to me in a British accent). 🙂
Hey, your toaster is calling you. Why not give it a quick polish and set it to work?
Just one more bite and this post is toast.
“But the toaster was quite satisfied with itself, thank you. Though it knew from magazines that there were toasters who could toast four slices at a time, it didn’t think that the master, who lived alone and seemed to have few friends, would have wanted a toaster of such institutional proportions. With toast, it’s quality that matters, not quantity.” ~ Thomas M. Disch (The Brave Little Toaster, 1980)
The lovely and talented Tricia Stohr-Hunt is hosting the Roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Be sure to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Have a good weekend.
*Copyright © 2022 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.