Who makes toast for you?
"It is impossible not to love someone who makes toast for you .... Once the warm, salty butter has hit your tongue, you are smitten. Putty in their hands." Nigel Slater
I was going to write about something different - the differences between writing and presenting/talking and that subject may in fact get absorbed into this one, (no - another time), but as I was looking for impressive quotes from various food writers to illustrate my theme, I found the one at the top of the page and it made me pause.
You see my husband makes the toast for me. Well the breakfast toast. I suppose if I am having toast for lunch I make that. But the awakening piece of toast (or crumpet or croissant), with my home-made jam is made by David and accompanied by a large cup of black coffee. And yes I love him for it. And then in another of life's little coincidences, our grandchildren made a little play about David, which gently made fun of him, but on completion our oldest grandson stated that he loved DD because he made toast and honey for them all at breakfast.
Such a simple thing. Did it make me fall in love with him. Well no. Falling in love is a much more complicated thing than toast, and besides he didn't make toast for me back then. We were at university, and the much less attractive toast than what I am served today, was made by the canteen staff. I suppose what Nigel Slater really meant about the making of toast for somebody demonstrates loving care, and ultimately I think that is probably what made me fall for David. He seemed to care. And as over fifty years of marriage has demonstrated he did, indeed does, which is why I get this loving gesture to start my day every day. Even if he does like to be appreciated for it - of course he does - and it's only fair that he should. That's my part of the bargain.
Nigel Slater calls the memoir he wrote of his childhood Toast which I now wonder about as his childhood was not really a happy one. Was he being ironic? Did he really mean to define love and especially the love one receives, or doesn't in childhood? The subtitle, after all is 'the story of a boy's hunger.'
The quote gave me pause though because it got me to thinking if I had ever made toast for David. So I asked him and he said no he thought not. Mornings early in marriage were probably far too busy for the niceties of making toast for each other. And I suspect at weekends this is where he began his tradition of making the toast for me. Well he is much more of a morning person than I. Later in life he would have been up well before me as he left for the morning commute at an early hour. So I was left to make breakfast for the children. Which actually didn't involve toast. It was more of a cereal thing. Am I a dreadful unloving, uncaring person because I have never made toast for anyone? (Well I don't think so - I expressed my love by making other more complicated things.)
So I feel bad for David. Maybe nobody has ever made toast for him, although many people have loved him and doubtless expressed that love in other ways, not necessarily through food, but maybe. He could not remember toast - either from old girlfriends or from parents, but then his long-term memory - like most males I think - tends not to remember details like this.
When I was much younger my mother and maybe even more so my grandmother, made toast for me - well mothers love their children. I think my mother was more into fried bread at breakfast time to go with the fried egg and bacon. Although I do remember with immense pleasure, toast and dripping for afternoon tea. And children love their mothers which is why breakfast in bed - often featuring toast is - is such a tradition on Mother's Day. It's easy for children to make toast and carry it with pride to their mother as she lies in bed. A luxury in itself.
Another small coincidence. When reading through another of my Christmas cookbooks - Nigella's Cook, eat, repeat, she has a whole section on 'pleasures'. She refuses to call them 'guilty' pleasures. And one of these is toast.
"I favour the two-stage approach when it comes to buttering: I slather it quickly in butter when it first comes out of the toaster so that it sinks in, giving the toast an almost crumpetty bite; then I leave it just a little before adding a bit more butter that, now the toast's no longer piping hot, will stay unmelted and golden on the surface. My fussy strictures notwithstanding, hot buttered toast - just slightly charred at the edges - has to be the quintessential simple pleasure, and a profound one." Nigella Lawson
Reading my way through my two Nigella Christmas books it seems to me that she lives a somewhat sad and lonely life - well this year at least. The children have left home. Well I think that may be true, or at least they often are not there, and she is no longer married. Of course she is busy, busy, busy, and has lots of friends, but 2020 COVID seems to have led to a more solitary existence. There are a number of recipes in both these books that are just for two or even one. Her description of preparing the toast is therefore a little bit sad to me.
I have never been a huge lover of toast myself, although today I think that is more to do with the bread involved and the techniques in making toast from it. I hate burnt toast, and if it is burnt I will scrape off the burnt bits into the sink, and these look very spooky to me somehow, so I quickly wash them down the drain. In the past because we did not have the equipment we have today, making toast was a much more haphazard thing. Yes it's nostalgic to remember toasting bread over the open fireplace with a toasting fork, but it didn't necessarily produce good toast.
"I have my own childhood memories of toast-making in front of the schoolroom fire. Although I fancy that more toast fell off the fork into the fire and irretrievably blackened than ever reached our plates, I can recall the great sense of achievement, when now and again a slice did come out right, evenly golden, with a delicious smell and especially, as I remember, with the right, proper texture, so difficult to describe, and so fleeting. Only when it was hot from the fire and straight off the fork did that toast have the requisite qualities." Elizabeth David - English Bread and Yeast Cookery
Nowadays too we have much better bread on the whole as our starting point, although Nigella swears by her old-fashioned sandwich loaf, and before she discovered the recipe she gives in her book for old-fashioned sandwich bread,, even supermarket sliced white bread was good. Not for me. That's for sandwiches I think. Toasted baguette on the other hand is perfect - crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. If there is any leftover baguette in the fridge I will have it for my lunchtime toast with whatever.
Rob Crossan of Country Life in a lovely article on the subject, tells us how perfecting toasters and the bread that goes into them was investigated by the makers of Vogel bread.
"The conclusions stated that the perfect toast required 216 seconds inside a pop-up set at five on a typical toaster dial. This, they claim, should assure the optimum builder’s-tea colour of the toast, as well as the perfect taste, reached only when the surface is 12 times crunchier than the centre."
Isn't it sad how the scientists and industrialists can reduce something so
"nostalgic; a crunchy portal to a time in our childhood just before we learnt to use cutlery, but shortly after we first began to understand the difference between food eaten for pleasure and food eaten purely for survival."
into something so baldly mathematical?
And a question about toasters that really bugs me is why, oh why, after so many decades of toasters does it still take so long to toast a slice of bread?
If you search the net you will find endless quotes about toast - such a basic thing - which, it seems is a quintessentially English thing, although as Elizabeth David says: "Surely England was not the only country where villages were isolated and bread went dry and stale?" Indeed one of our rented French houses was situated in a village in the Pyrenees, some 20 kilometres along a narrow road on the edge of the mountainside - with a drop hundreds of metres on one side - not at all tempting to go to the nearest village to get the morning baguette. So we learnt to 'refresh' the bread we had bought the day before by dampening it and reheating in the oven. Maybe this is what other countries did, because Elizabeth David does wonder:
"if our open fires and coal ranges were not more responsible than the high incidence of stale bread for the popularity of toast in all classes of English household."
And popular it was. Maybe it's an urban myth, but the first thing the Duke of Wellington is said to have asked for when returning from six years overseas was 'an unlimited supply of buttered toast."
Toast - or rather smashed avocado on toast has become the modern 'must have' for breakfast, and there are endless fancy things to do with toast. but I'm sure that there are still many who favour the simple toast, butter and marmalade, jam or honey as the ultimate breakfast treat. Rob Crossan tries to define the pleasure:
"push down the lever and you’re guaranteed that, within a few minutes, the world will feel an incrementally kinder sort of place."
"No matter how many times you’ve done it, the denouement is always startling. Hot, comforting and defiantly naughty, a hot, crisp slice of bread bursting out of a pop-up toaster has an extraordinary capacity to deliver pleasure and surprise." Rob Crossan - Country Life
Although Elizabeth David suggest it's all down to the smell - which really is a whole other topic:
"It is surely the smell of toast that makes it so enticing, an enticement which the actuality rarely lives up to. In this it is like freshly roasted coffee, like sizzling bacon - all those early morning smells of an intensity and deliciousness which create far more than those new flavours, since they create hunger and appetite where none existed." Elizabeth David
Love in the morning at the start of a new day perhaps. The promise of a good day ahead. I'll leave the last words to Kenneth Grahame and Wind in the Willows, or is it Toad of Toad Hall? Kenneth Grahame anyway. The imagined glories of yesterday.
"When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray… and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb.
‘The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy 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
So who makes toast for you? Who do you make toast for?
POSTSCRIPT ON MARZIPAN
Still on Nigella - well I am still reading through her Christmas present books, she had a recipe for cake in which the marzipan is in the cake rather than on top of it.
Marzipan loaf cake. She describes it as a 'plain cake' and it is, but I'm guessing it is pretty tasty, She describes it as being "there to be sliced as needed, always delivering more than it promises." Like toast perhaps.
But she also serves is what she calls a pudding, but which is almost like French toast, albeit baked in the oven. Served with raspberries and crème fraiche it looks somewhat more appetising, simply because of the slightly caramelised surface. A slightly different tea cake, and somehow very English.