The Simple Things
THE TOAST RACK
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the toast rack became sidelined in British homes. Perhaps it was when bowls of cereal took over from toast as the easy breakfast option. Or maybe it was when it was considered an encumbrance in the stampede to get out of the door in the morning – one more thing – along with the butter dish, marmalade pot and teapot – to wash up and put away.
Or perhaps we simply forgot what it is there for – to keep toast crisp. The toast rack’s five or six slots create air gaps which allow water vapour to escape from the hot toast. If toast is piled in a heap on a side-plate, for example, the escaping air condenses into adjacent slices and makes them soggy. As AM Sargeant, wrote in The Housemaid’s Complete Guide 1851: “Dry toast should be set up in the toast rack the moment it is done to prevent sogginess.” Quite right, too. Mrs Beeton made an unecessary hoo-hah out of toast-making in her Dictionary of
Every-Day Cookery, 1865: “To make dry toast properly a great deal of attention is required; much more, indeed, than people generally suppose. ” The downside of propping up toast on a rack, however, is that the toast becomes colder quicker: a situation often experienced during hotel breakfasts when a selection of brown and white slices cools and hardens while you demolish your full English.
The first records of a toast rack are from the 1780s* when there was a refinement of dining customs among the middle classes. These toast racks were made of silver, had five or six parallel arches connected to a flat base and four spherical feet; a style that endures. In fact, the design of the toast rack has changed little over the centuries, limited as it is by its function. In the 1950s, however, silver was replaced by the easier to maintain and more affordable stainless steel, epitomised by Robert Welch’s Campden toast rack, below, reissued last year to celebrate its 60th year. But the toast rack is not only functional, it celebrates toast, placing the much-loved and delicious food centre stage on the breakfast table, temptingly proffering golden slices to the diner. It deserves a place on all our breakfast tables, even if it’s just once a week on Sundays, when a more leisurely pace allows it to come into its own. * Toast however dates back to Roman times when bread was put on a stone near the fire until crisp. The word ‘ toast’ derives from the Latin ‘ tostum’ which means scorched.
“It celebrates toast, placing it centre stage on the breakfast table”