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More Stories - The Way We Were

Toasty History

When I was young, our toaster didn't look anything like the modern ones nowadays.  In fact, if you didn't watch it closely, it would make charcoal!  Ours was fairly modern in that it made two slices at once.  We opened a door on each side, stood a slice of bread against the rack, closed the door and then tried to guess when it was toasted to taste.  Then we had to yank the door open and turn the bread around in order to toast the other side.

My mother's aunt, Amelia Hine, refused to mess with such a new-fangled contraption.  She always threaded a slice of bread onto a long-tined fork, and held it over the fire until it was toasted.  If I asked, she would make me one, too.  This was especially tasty with homemade bread.  The irregularities would toast much darker than the rest,  giving an interesting taste and appearance.  Once in a long while I make myself some toast this way, using a carving fork, and it always reminds me of my beloved "Aunt Amee".

One day our toaster broke.  Apparently we were a little short of money just then.  Daddy, who loved his morning toast, especially when Mama baked bread, had a solution.  We had an electric sandwich grill, like a waffle iron but with flat plates.  We just lightly buttered the bread and toasted it on both sides at once.  It was actually an improvement over the toaster, although it also had to be watched closely and it would slightly squash the bread.  Frequently the toast would get overdone, and we'd scrape the darker outside into the sink with a knife, leaving behind a telltale dusting of black crumbs.

Eventually we got another toaster.  Sleek automatic ones had come to market, safer and handy but taking some of the adventure out of making toast.

For several years our whole family went to a summer religious revival camp.  It was obviously a shoe-string operation, housed in a huge old wooden building, with another in the rear attached by a high, rickety wooden catwalk.  The married adults had individual rooms in the main house; the girls were housed dormitory-style in the second story of the back house with the boys downstairs.  Since the only entrance and exit to the rear upstairs was over the catwalk, this kept the boys and girls safely segregated.  It was obviously a terrible firetrap, one that wouldn't be allowed today. 

Meals were served in the basement.  Slices of commercial white bread were put into the oven on low heat at the crack of dawn.  By the time we came to table, the bread was completely crisp, dry and crunchy, like a giant crouton.  Every table had a large jar of grape jelly.  This made such an impression on me that, although we went for a week or two every summer for several years, I don't remember anything else that we ate the whole time we were there.

The last year we attended, either growth or the fire department had caused them to purchase a plot of land several blocks up the hill.  Youngsters and teenagers stayed there in large tents on wooden platforms, carefully supervised by counselors to prevent inappropriate behavior.  The platforms came in handy since that summer it rained the entire week.  I learned that even though the tents didn't leak, the humidity caused one's bedsheets to cling disgustingly, one's clothes to feel yucky, and one's shoes to stay perpetually wet.  We had been scheduled to eat on picnic tables outside, but instead had to don raincoats and trek down the hill to the main building every morning for more dry toast and jelly.  To this day I have a slight aversion to grape jelly.   This experience made me really appreciate toasters.

Do you have an old toaster in the attic you're thinking about throwing out?  Read "Toasters Worth a Lot of Bread" by CBSNews.

Want to read some history of toasters and see some of those early models?

The Sneaky Kitchen
Web Site by Bess W. Metcalf   Copyrightę April 1999 - 201

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