One of our favorite mindgames is to think about what we can do without, or perhaps better put: What do we really need? We started doing it rigorously in the kitchen when we had to downsize years ago, and began to ask ourselves,”What equipment is truly necessary for the way we cook”. Not only did we discover that we did NOT need the wealth of gadgets being touted as essential, but we didn’t even need some things that people take for granted, like an electric toaster. In our smaller space, we saw an electric toaster as a space glutton that we didn’t want on our counter. About the same time, we came across an inexpensive stovetop fish grill in a Japanese kitchenware store. Hmm, we thought, wonder if we could toast bread on this? It worked wonderfully and we’ve been using it to grill our bread on a burner ever since…(sometimes we put the buttered toast back on it to melt…)
So naturally we LOVED stumbling upon Ellen Lupton‘s essay, Are Toasters Necessary?, from her book Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things.
Lupton, curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City, has a lot to say about toasters, the meaning of toasters, and what toasted bread actually is, as well as some fine, simple alternatives (with charming illustrations):
“It turns out that there are numerous ways to make toast, and I tried many of them while awaiting the return of the tl90 [a high-tech Rowenta toaster designed by British designerJasper Morrisen]. An oven broiler works well if you are mindful of burning and you flip the bread to achieve toasting on both sides. A stove-top frying pan allows for easier surveillance and possibly less heat waste than the oven broiler. Indeed, I often “fry” a bagel or sliced baguette after employing the pan for something else, giving the heat and oil already stored there a second tour of duty. The cook who loves danger can toast bread slices directly in the stove’s gas flame, while the more cautious pyromaniac will enjoy charring thick slices of bread on an outdoor grill, placing them on a low flame for a few minutes just as the grilled meats are nearing completion.”
Lupton distilled the true gist of toast: “Whatever the method, the toasting process is a tiny miracle that has the power, Phoenix-like, to revive our daily bread with its healing fire.”
Stale bread, born again.
You can find different iterations of the Japanese Stovetop Grill in Asian cookware stores; we found ours at Katagiri in New York City (and there’s a version here on Amazon). We also recommend this classic, foldable 4-slice Camp Stove Toaster.