Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Origin of Toast.

I want to continue to consider toast today. At risk of appearing to repeating information and opinion from a post last year, the credit for discovering ‘toast’ appears to go to the English. Overseas visitors to England in the eighteenth century started to notice and comment upon two particular things: the delightful habit of ‘taking tea’ in the afternoon, and the idea of toasting bread before the fire. It seems that the thinness of English bread slices was particularly noteworthy.

M.Grosley wrote of his visit in A Tour to London, published in 1772:

“The Butter and Tea which the Londoners live upon from morning until three or four in the afternoon, occasions the chief consumption of bread, which is cut in slices, and so thin, that it does as much honour to the address of the person that cuts it, as to the sharpness of the knife.”

And the previously quoted C.P. Moritz, a Prussian clergyman who visited England in 1782, said:

“The slices of bread and butter, which they give you with your tea, are as thin as poppy-leaves – But there is another kind of bread and butter usually eaten with tea, which is toasted by the fire, and is incomparably good. This is called toast.”

An even earlier visitor from Scandinavia, a man called Pehr Kalm in 1748, had a theory about how toasting came about:

“The cold rooms here in England in the winter, and because the butter is then hard from the cold, and does not admit of being spread on bread, have perhaps given them the idea thus to toast the bread, then spread butter on it while it is still hot.”

His theory however begs the question of why was the butter not softened before the selfsame fire?. The real reason of course is that toast is much nicer and tastier than plain stale bread!

From The Dictionary of Dainty Breakfasts (1899), here is a very robust way to have your toast (and your eggs too.)

Toast, Bombay.
Ingredients: Two eggs, toast, essence of anchovy, capers. Time required: Ten minutes.
Prepare slices of buttered toast cut into rounds or fingers. Melt a little butter in an omelette pan. As it dissolves stir in two beaten eggs, half a teaspoonful of essence of anchovy and half a teaspoonful of chopped capers and pepper. Spread the mixture on the toast and serve hot.

Quotation for the Day.

When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; 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."
The Wind in TheWillows


Kathryn McGowan said...

Ah toast, one of my favorite foods. I think it is the crunchiness, that makes it so wonderful, involving the sense of hearing as well as taste. Mmmm, I'll have to go make some now.


Katie Scarlett said...

mmmm....toast, so simple yet so comforting.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Kathryn, I think that the sound of eating (in one's own head - not the sound of others eating!) is an under-appreciated aspect. I love crunch too.
Katie: I think you have hit the nail on the head - simple yet comforting.

Unknown said...

If you're sick in Mexico you can live off of pan tostado...trust me, I know! It's very crunchy and drier than American toast that's made in a toaster/oven. There are many flavors and you can even buy sugar and fat free.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Kim - is this 'pan tostada' a commercial version of dry toast? or do people make it themselves?