Do you use a toast rack? You know, one of the many fiddly accoutrements without which your grandmother would feel everything was going downhill.
Like everything, the toast rack has a history (have you ever given that a thought? – I haven’t). According to Cynthia Harris, a silver expert at Sotheby’s, the earliest print reference to a toast rack was in 1789. The rack in question belonged to John William Anderson, a City of London alderman, and along with a significant amount of other domestic silver, it was stolen by two burglars, John Cave and John Partington. “The report includes that the toast rack was valued at two pounds, which was probably quite high at the time,” says Harris.
The toast rack in question may have looked liked this one in the V&A, dating from around 1790. They say that: ‘toast racks, designed to hold a selection of toast on the breakfast table, appeared in the 1780s as part of the general refinement of dining customs among the middle classes. A variety of designs was initially explored (for example, articulated racks) before the simple arrangement of parallel arches became standard. The design for the present rack, consisting largely of narrow strips of metal, was probably developed from the form of a lyre, a popular symbol of harmony and clarity among Neo-classical designers.’
But, back to our story, Anderson was later knighted, but Cave and Partington were tried at the Old Bailey and condemned to death. (Cave was ultimately spared for whatever reason.) From then on, numerous references to the toast rack, a normally silver or silver-plated item that consists of vertical partitions, usually five or seven, connected to a flat base with four to six feet and a handle, appear in 18th and 19th century cookbooks.
One cook book contains the immortal line: The purpose of a toast rack is to prevent bread soggery.
A gondola may help with extreme sog of course. Mrs Beeton is her usual very strict self and, in her Dictionary of Everyday Cookery, tells us that a great piece of toast is a much harder thing to make that most people realise: ‘The toast rack is paramount to the process’.
Once invented it was only a matter of time before imaginations got into gear and variations on the theme proliferated. I can quite see that this toast and egg combo would work, (eggs would have to be dried to avoid the dreaded sog),
but tennis rackets??
and wish bones? There seems to be a whole world of possibilities. And that’s just the ones made in silver. If you happen to have a hankering for one but you don’t like toast you can always use one as a letter holder.
But that would probably be one of those essential bits of kit your granny would have which you have dispensed with. Let me know if you’ve been inspired to get back to the genteel days of toast rack ownership.