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The Flat Cap on ... Toast

“Toast kills” screamed the news article as The Flat Cap sat down to his full English breakfast. Not the happiest of headlines when you’ve just paid handsomely for a slap up morning feed. So rather than panic too much The Flat Cap decided to finish his meal at the local café he frequents, and do his own research into toast and its colourful history. This is the same café that featured in the blog on baked beans. It’s the one Ivy runs. The Flat Cap hopes that if Ivy keeps getting a mention in his blogs she’ll give him free cups of tea, or discounted meals, or perhaps even a complimentary eccles cake one day.

The first thing The Flat Cap discovered was that it is indeed the colour of your toast that can give cause for alarm. Too brown and you could be brown bread (cockney rhyming slang for dead). The Food Standards Agency has helpfully pointed out that if you overcook your bread a nasty chemical called acrylamide is produced, and acrylamide has been found to cause cancer in animals. That’s not to say you’re definitely going to suffer, just that you might. The Flat Cap thinks worrying about the colour of your toast is probably so stressful as to damage your health more than dark toast itself. But then he’s not a scientist and he hasn’t got his own laboratory to test for acrylamide. But that’s enough about acrylamide.

Next week nobody will even recall what acrylamide is and scientists will have come up with another health risk that will panic everyone until they can do a bit of research into something else. Oh, and don’t store your raw potatoes in the fridge as that can increase also the levels of acrylamide. Ok, that really is the last reference to acrylamide. And another top tip – don’t base your diet on potato crisps, lots of cake and fizzy pop.

Toast has been around for years. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries people would put it in drinks to flavour them, and then discard it. Toasting someone’s health came into common language because of this very practice. Go down to your local pub today and attempt to dip your toast in another man’s pint and you’d likely be punched, or barred, or both. But in Shakespeare’s time it was the done thing and really poor people would hang around bars waiting for discarded pieces of toast just to supplement their meagre rations. Things got so bad that a law had to be passed to stop people scavenging on these scraps of charred bread. If caught by the authorities the local magistrate would send these paupers to prison. And that is how the phrase, “you’re toast” came about.

Because chefs like to think they are creative they come up with heir own names for essentially the same dishes. It’s even the case with toast. Soak some bread in milk and eggs and fry it and you’ve got French toast, but it’s also German toast, Spanish toast, Bombay toast; the list goes on and on. It’s the same with potatoes. Just cook them a certain way, or put them in a sauce and you can give them a fancy title. Putting foreign place names in front of the word toast (or potatoes) is a great way to show off how cosmopolitan you are. And if you’re a top chef with a few appearances on television to your CV you can charge a fortune in the restaurant that you open on the back of the money you’ve made from being on the television. And then when everyone knows who you are there are book deals and personal appearances at food shows. Everyone can name a celebrity chef these days. Life’s never been so good if you can cook a bit.

Anyway back to toast. And to supplement this blog The Flat Cap asked café proprietor, and top chef herself, Ivy if she knew any interesting facts about toast. And guess what? She did. The most interesting toast related trivia is listed below:

  • In 2013 scientists at Manchester MET University (the ones who hadn’t yet heard of acrylamide) put in hours of work to study the buttered toast phenomenon. They had noted that when buttered toast is dropped it has a perceived tendency to land with the buttered side to the floor. And that’s not a good outcome if you want to pick it up and carry on eating it. Their study concluded this was down to the size of the toast, the height of the typical dining table and the toast’s ability to only perform half a somersault before landing. Pioneering work like this is what makes Great Britain great

  • Melba toast is named after the Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, although her real name was Helen Porter Mitchell. Peach Melba was also named after her

  • Croutons are a bit like toast, and you can put them in soups

  • In the Manchester suburb of Fallowfield there’s a building that’s often referred to as “the Toast Rack” because the top of it resembles a toast rack. It is now a Grade II listed building

  • Approximately eighty million slices of bread are toasted every day worldwide

  • There’s a type of railway carriage called a toast rack because of its design

  • Before acrylamide was discovered people used to fret over how much salt they had in their diet

  • The first electrical toaster was invented in 1893, and the world’s first pop up toaster was patented in 1921

  • If you have a café, like Ivy, a four slice toaster is better than a two slice one

  • To travel one mile a small electric car will use the same amount of energy as five hundred household toasters

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