Brand building through storytelling

All hail the humble toaster!

Long before I discovered raw-milk brie and shaved truffle; before prosciutto, Meyer lemons and artisanal chocolate, I knew the honest pleasures of toast.

In my mother’s yellow kitchen, every day began with toast. Not just any toast, mind you, but oatmeal bread from Calef’s Country Store, lightly crisped and spread with sweet butter that melted into every golden pore. In our haste to anoint the golden toast before it cooled, my sister and I would collide at the butter dish, hard-elbowed as shoppers descending on the 75-percent-off rack at Ralph Lauren.

I no longer have to fight for my toast, but that’s because my husband doesn’t even start thinking about breakfast until I’ve polished off the paper and made my morning Internet rounds. I’m still a fanatic when it comes to breakfast rituals. There must be an appealing selection of breads—a toast wardrobe, so to speak—and a complementary topping for every mood. So let me be the one to tell you that 2009 marks the 100th anniversary of the humble, dependable, utterly essential toaster. Click here to see the first model, which reminds me of a Dada sculpture perched on a piece of bric-a-brac from an English china shop.

I have been the jaded owner of every kitchen gadget that ever buzzed, flashed or inspired a slew of cookbooks. Remember the electric frying pan? Got it as a wedding gift, discovered it couldn’t compete with my trusty cast-iron pan. History. Deep-fryer? Gave it away when I realized I had hooked the family on homemade French fries. Ice cream maker, crepe machine, electric can-opener? The thrill is gone; so’s the gear. I’ve still got a blender, juicer, mixer, stovetop grill, slow cooker and a food processor that came with a gazillion mysterious parts (most of which I’ve never used) plus an instructional video that tells me everything except what I really want to know: how to keep the newfangled safety feature from locking the lid on so firmly, it practically defies removal.

These modern gizmos have their uses, but they all involve chopping, hovering and fussing-not to mention a trip to the grocery store. Besides, they won’t give you any comfort when you’ve just schlepped home from the airport at midnight with a headache and a week’s worth of laundry. Comfort is the specialty of toasters.

With a toaster on your counter and a stash of decent bread in the freezer, you will always have the makings of a simple but soulful meal. A few nights ago, while fighting a cold, I didn’t have the heart to eat anything but scrambled eggs with gruyere cheese on whole wheat toast. Great choice. Revived, I hankered for another piece of toast. What would it be this time? I settled on cranberry-chocolate foccaccia topped with dark chocolate-peanut butter spread (trust me, most cookies can’t beat this combo). I can’t say it was the toast that accounted for my brighter spirits the next morning. But I’m not about to tell you it wasn’t.

Last Sunday, just before spring went underground again, I thought I’d take advantage of the sweet air and sunlight to walk uptown and replenish my supply of a certain fruit and nut bread, dense as Christmas cake, that freezes like a dream and makes divine toast. There’s only one store that sells it. Not about to take my chances, I phoned ahead and reserved two loaves, sliced. My husband joined me on the bread-buying walk, and we arrived in good time at 4:15. I could practically taste fruit and nut toast with hazelnut butter (and optional second layer of marmalade) when I saw the hastily hand-lettered sign on the door. “New Sunday hours,” it announced. Dammit, they had closed at 4. You’d think they might have told me their plans when I phoned in my order!

A cluster of befuddled-looking shoppers muttered, shook their heads and dispersed like birds abandoning an empty feeder. Not us. We had walked 40 minutes for our toast. We banged on the door and explained our plight to the teenage clerk who had opened it the merest crack. “We’ve closed the till for the day,” she said. “Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you.” The door clicked shut. My husband, a hard-liner when it comes to customer disservice, vowed not to return. I, thinking of toast, had a brainwave: “Let’s ask them to give us the bread if they want to keep our business.” Long story short, they did.

This morning I had fruit and nut toast, smeared with goat cheese and fig jam. Outside winter was doing its best to dig in, yet I was feeling grateful. To the bakery clerk for seeing reason in the end. To Frank Shailor, who invented the toaster in 1909. And to that other breakfast angel, Otto Frederick Rohwedder, who invented the commercial bread-slicer, without which I wouldn’t have my frozen bread wardrobe. When Wonder introduced sliced bread in 1930, it must have been the greatest thing since…well, the toaster.

Got a favourite way of enjoying your toast? I’d love to know. And meanwhile, speaking of customer disservice, I’ve just found a website full of true, top-this tales from frustrated consumers. Click here for my favourite.


Posted by Rona

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