my darling, my toaster

“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)

Good morning!

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. 🙂

“Rosebud” watercolor by Denny Bond (2011)
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)

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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.

Dualit Emma Bridgewater 4-slice toaster.

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.

Victorian silver-plated toast rack, Sheffield, England.

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?

“Toad and the Gaoler’s Daughter”/The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, art by Chris Dunn (2017)

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? 🙂

“Tea and Toast” by Adam Ralston

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).

19th century English brass toasting forks

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.

D-12 Model, designed by Frank Shailor with Albert Marsh’s safe and durable Nichrome filament wire, manufactured by GE.

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!

Strite automatic toaster for commercial use.
Toastmaster automatic household toaster.

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)

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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.

45 thoughts on “my darling, my toaster

  1. I’m just getting started with this post–will return to finish later but I’m laughing out loud with “bread’s trampoline” HA!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Succulent and loving post Jama! you know how I feel:

    In Praise of Old Coffee Makers

    My mother’s Mr. Coffee,
    four cups in all, enough
    for both of us, gurgling a good morning
    from her galley kitchen counter
    when I’d come for overnights;

    my Yaya’s stainless steel pot
    on the front burner of her stove
    when I was a girl at her table,
    the dark liquid popping and burbling up
    as if silently singing into the clear glass knob
    and waiting to be poured, black with
    a dollop of whole milk–nothing fancy
    or pressed or flavored, only itself
    like a staple of love.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the Wind in the Willows! How wonderful to be greeted by Toad on this Poetry Friday, and the poem about toasters is great fun. Very imaginative – I too love “bread trampoline.”

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  4. Oh my, oh my – LOVE this all, and I’m drooling a little over those toasting racks and forks… First message on my phone this morning, from my over-hurried hubby, was “I left rice toast in the toaster. Enjoy! Love you!” I’m pretty much gluten-free these days, and he had made some brown rice flour bread. :0) Love your “humble yet decidedly adorable” wee appliance, and I love that Nicholas Ralph found his way to your wall of fame. That’s a lot of love in one comment, but I apologize not. XO

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    1. Does Jeff do take out orders? Homemade GF bread — mmmm! Nicholas Ralph is happy you noticed him (so sad Season 2 of ACGAS is over). Did you catch that the person who invented the first electric toaster was a Scot? 🙂 And along with Kenneth Grahame, well, maybe we should toast them with a wee dram?

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      1. Slàinte! & oh, yes, I caught that electric toaster inventor nugget… ;0) And Jeff & I are both sad Season II of All Creatures is over. (I might have mentioned before, but hearing young, dashing Nicholas read the first two books on audio is a good way to bide the time between seasons….)

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  5. You are a wonder, Jama! (absolutely NO relation to the bread of that name though… 😉 )
    How you can take an appliance that most of us take for granted and make it extraordinary is brilliant.
    I love visiting your blog. ❤ A toast to you…*cheers*!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks, Bridget! Does Smidgey like toast?

      Little known fact: that slice of toast with the smiley face in the first photo is at least 10 months old! “Toasty” appeared in my review about Sarah Hwang’s book back in May 2021. After photographing him for that post, I couldn’t bear to eat him or throw him away, so we still have him (and he was happy to appear in today’s post too). He lives on our kitchen table — still crisp and fresh (just goes to show how many preservatives Pepperidge Farm uses in their bread). 🙂

      https://jamarattigan.com/2021/05/25/delectable-review-toasty-by-sarah-hwang/

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      1. Yes, Smidgey likes toast…especially when spread with cream cheese. 😉
        “Toasty” aged well! I loaf that he continues to live on your table with his crusty smile.

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  6. Jama: I may have to dedicate a post to toast someday also, but it won’t be as stylish as yours. I love Wind in the Willows, and I love toast. Made some this morning from hubby’s homemade bread. But the toaster… alas… our toaster stopped and we’ve been making do. Not working too well, either. Haha. So, thanks for this delight, I envy your toaster, and loved the poem. I don’t understand toast racks… but oh well…

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    1. Another person eating homemade bread. I’m jealous! I think you should treat yourself to a new toaster and then write a poem about it! Toast racks are good for keeping slices from getting soggy until you’re ready to eat them. Plus, they look nice on a breakfast table. 😀

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  7. I actually HAD a toast rack when I lived in the UK, and I didn’t quite know what it was at first… My favorite time of having toast was at a great big outdoor market in Glasgow called The Barras – for goods were carted in Ye Olden Days in wheelbarras – and we had scalding tea and toast with “lashings” of butter because it was freezing, and that was a good pick-me-up. Ten minutes later, we were up and shopping again. Good times.

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  8. What a fun post…and, I do love toast. It is the ultimate comfort food. Mom used to make us soldiers with cinnamon and butter. Yum! So enjoyed how much you love your toast and a bit of the history behind it.

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  9. I do love a good piece of toast. Your toaster is very pretty! And I love the poem. I learned today what marmite is (doesn’t sound good) and Eggs and Soldiers (sounds great) and some other fun things. Thanks for an entertaining and edifying post.

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  10. We actually did have a four-slice toaster in the teachers’ room/kitchen. Quite a few fixed toast with ? for their lunches. I’m a marmalade fan, so toast is a favorite of mine too. I don’t know the brand but my toaster is red, my favorite color, so it brightens my day every time I see it! I did not know about fancy toast racks and toasting forks, Jama, though I have a few, not fancy, for roasting marshmallows. I love Wind in The Willows, so wrapping them around everything is lovely. And, I love “the jack-in-the-box of the countertop crowd.” Delightful poem. Happy Weekend!

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  11. Loved this little “slice” of nostalgia, Jama! There is nothing else quite like the warm simplicity of a slice of buttered toast, although I will say that toasting bread over an open flame yields a wonderfully fulfilling flavor one cannot achieve with an electric toaster…alas, those times are, sadly few.

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  12. Jama, you tickled my heart and taste buds today. Toast is a fond memory that goes way back to tea and toast when under-the=weather as a child, to herbal essences now as an adult. When I moved into my new house, my microwave fancy convection oven had a toast button. I was enthralled but the family needed a toaster fix and so my new 4 slicer sits proudly on my counter doing its smarthome tricks. I shall remember your quote when I have a craving for toast: “You’re the jack-in-the-box of the countertop crowd.” Thanks for the history lesson, too.

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  13. Who knew that a tour of toastery could be so terrific? Your Dualit is to die for (and what a worthwhile investment!) and Chochinov’s poem is charming. Aaaahhhh, I feel as satisfied as if I’d just had a slice of hot buttered toast and a cup of Assam.❤️. Thanks, Jama!

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  14. Fascinating look at the history of toasters! And that quote at the top from Wind in the Willows made me swoon and determine to read that book again. Talk about setting a scene and taking you right there! So beautifully written.

    Toast brings special memories for me. My aunt lived in a tiny house that my grandfather built behind his and my grandmother’s house. Annie was a special lady with a mysterious past. I think she had a sad marriage in the past but I guess it was shameful in the 60s and 70s for older people so we never knew for sure. But she would fix me toast whenever I went to visit her. She would butter bread and bake it in her little oven. We would sit on her tiny screened porch and eat it. Simple but special.

    Another memory of toast was in the book 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. The two dogs, Pongo and Perdita, found refuge in an old man’s house, and he made buttered toast over the fire and fed it to them. I don’t remember a lot of details, but I clearly remember this and the illustration from childhood, and I’m 61!

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    1. Thanks for the lovely comment, Jan. The memory of your aunt making toast for you reminds me of my grandmother. She used to make toast for my brother and me whenever we visited — she buttered it all the way to the edges, spread a little guava jelly on it and folded it in half. So good, just the right chewiness. That’s probably my favorite toast memory.

      I don’t remember Pongo and Perdita eating toast (was that scene in the movie?). You can tell I haven’t read the book. Still, I do like Mercy Watson’s love for hot buttered toast (do you know that series?).

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  15. Wow! I meant to get here last week and somehow never made it. What a great toast celebration! I have always been partial to toast myself though I was stretched a bit to respond excitedly when I received three toasters at my bridal shower. “Oh, this one is for bagels!” “Oooooh! A four-slicer!” lol Also, your toaster is about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen! Such a fun post.

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    1. Three toasters? I didn’t receive any as wedding or shower gifts. My little cream toaster thanks you for liking him. Thanks for swinging back to read this. Have a nice weekend!

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