Toast has many guises in the English-speaking culinary world, as we have seen this week. It is a staple at breakfast, very desirable at afternoon tea, and is happy to appear at lunch or supper alongside a bowl of soup. It can be cold and austere, or hot and buttery, it can be embellished with any number of delicious spreads, and is very supportive of eggs, or melted cheese (have we remembered Welsh Rabbit this week?) or leftover stew, or pretty well anything else - including, as we saw earlier in the week, a saucy pile of stewed fruit. As if to prove its versatility, slightly burnt toast also became an ingredient in some of the ersatz coffee recipes of the nineteenth century.
You will be pleased to know that toast rounds out its range with a number of posh roles too. The first that comes to mind is Melba Toast - the ultra-thin crisp toast invented by Escoffier for the opera singer, Nellie Melba. Melba-foods deserve their own story, one day soon, methinks. So, what else is there?
In the last decade or so of the nineteenth century in the English-speaking world, a new kind of whet became fashionable – the canapé. We use the word fairly loosely today to describe any small pre-dinner or cocktail party ‘nibble’, but originally a canapé referred specifically to a small savoury with a base of bread or toast. Actually, this is not quite true. A couple of hundred years before it was a food item, in France a canapé was a sofa. I can see what appears to be the connection here - an edible canapé is a little something resting comfortably on a toast ‘pillow’ - but I have no idea who was the perpetrator of the change in usage of the word. Please do enlighten me if you know the answer.
There is a nice explanation of the canapé in the 1905 edition of the famous The Boston Cooking School Cook Book.
Canapés are made by cutting bread in slices one-fourth inch thick, and cutting slices in strips four inches long by one and one-half inches wide, or in circular pieces. Then
bread is toasted, fried in deep fat, or buttered and browned in the oven, and covered with a seasoned mixture of eggs, cheese, fish, or meat, separately or in combination. Canapés are served hot or cold, and used in place of oysters at a dinner or luncheon. At a gentleman's dinner they are served with a glass of Sherry before entering the dining- room.
And here are a couple of very posh versions of the canapé, from the same book – they will nicely use up that lobster coral and crab meat you have lurking in the back of the fridge.
Beat yolk one egg, add one and one-half tablespoons cream, one-fourth teaspoon salt, one-eighth teaspoon paprika, one-fourth teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce, and a few
grains cayenne; then add one-fourth pound cheese cut in small pieces, and cook until smooth, stirring constantly.
Spread on sauted slices of bread, cut in fancy shapes, and cover with finely chopped lobster meat held together with a thick sauce made of Chicken Stock or cream, garnish with rings of whites of “hard-boiled” eggs, yolks of “hard-boiled” eggs, and lobster coral forced through a strainer, and rings of olives.
Toast slices of bread cut in shape of horseshoes. Cream two tablespoons butter, and add one teaspoon white of egg. Spread slices of bread, rounding with Crab Mixture, cover with creamed butter, sprinkle with cheese, and brown in the oven. Serve on a napkin, ends towards centre of dish, and garnish with parsley.
Crab Mixture. Finely chop crab meat, season with salt, cayenne, and a few drops of lemon juice, then moisten with Thick White Sauce. Lobster meat may be used in place of crab meat.
Quotation for the Day.
Ultimately, the toaster is an apology for the quality of our bread ... the toaster represents a heroic attempt to redeem our packaged bread …every piece of toast is a tragedy.