Pravasan Pillay examines the roots of his relationship to toast.
There are two ways that I make buttered toast in my home. When it’s for my wife and son, I stick a couple of slices of bread in the toaster, wait for the toast to pop up suitably browned, then hurriedly spread curled ribbons of butter over it. I serve it hot, fast, and soft. This is how my wife, my son, and, I’m guessing, vast sections of the world’s population prefer their toast.
The way I make my own toast follows the same procedure as above, except that when the toast pops up, I let it rest on the saucer – only when it’s cold minutes later do I butter it. Sometimes, if I’m especially impatient to get out the door, I will even put my toast in the freezer so that it gets cooler faster.
I enjoy the texture of the stiff, cold toast and the creamy taste of the layer of unmelted butter.
I’ve never reflected about why I eat my toast in this way until one day my wife flat out asked me with a look of incredulity: “Why are you putting your perfectly fine toast on top of the frozen peas?” All I could do was shut the freezer door sheepishly.
I will be the first to admit that this is supremely weird behaviour from an adult man – or indeed any sentient being. But after doing a little bit of introspection, I think I might have honed in on the root of my fetish for frigid toast.
When I was a kid, I loved toast, like really loved it, but we didn’t own a toaster. I grew up in a single parent household and my mother would make me toast using the following methods: On a tava, which is a flat, cast iron pan often used in Indian homes to fry flatbreads like roti. When you toast on a tava, you usually butter both sides of the bread. The finished product is quite oily, but nevertheless tasty.
The other, much cooler, method my mother used to make toast was on a wire clothing hanger, which was bent on three sides so that it formed a kind of cooking stand that fitted above the stove coil. You would have to flip the bread while being careful not to burn yourself on the scorching hot wire of the hanger. The end result was pretty similar to conventionally made toast.
Of course, given the dangers, my younger brother and I were forbidden to use either the clothing hanger toaster or the tava – or, for that matter, even come close to the stove.
I guess I was 10 years-old or so when we got our first modern popup toaster. It was godsent for my mother who worked long hours and night-shifts as a nurse. My brother and I were essentially latchkey kids and the toaster allowed me to safely and easily make one of my favourite snacks when we were home alone.
Naturally, being an asshole kid, I almost immediately broke the toaster by sticking a butter knife into the heating element. I had read in the instructions that you specifically shouldn’t do that, which I interpreted, with encouragement from my brother, as a dare.
After the first ruined toaster, my mother bought another, which I also proceeded to damage with a knife but fortunately not destroy this time. That’s when my mother quite understandably stopped me from making toast, at least while I was by myself.
Instead, before leaving for work at five in the morning, she would toast the bread herself and leave it for me under a covered dinner plate on the kitchen table. When I got up hours later, I would butter the now hard, cold pieces of toast and eat them while watching the morning cartoons.
I guess over the years I came to prefer my toast that way – though, admittedly, flash freezing might be taking matters to an extreme. I definitely regard it as one of my comfort foods, one of the things that makes me feel safe, one of the things that makes me feel at home.
And if you’re thinking that all of this is way too much thought to put into bread, be mindful that I have a lot of time on my hands waiting around my kitchen for toast to get cold.