Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Toast has never really been my thing, but a few months ago I just felt the need to buy a toaster. Nothing rational you understand, just the feeling that somehow it was missing from my life.

At least a decade and a half of a toaster-free existence and there I was, eyeing up the toasters in the store and walking home with a shiny new compact ultra-modern minimalist little number to add a touch of chic to my oh so not modern cluttered sort of rustic traditionalist kind of kitchen on whose counter it sat for quite a while looking totally out of place until one day I girded my loins and plucked up the courage to use the thing.

I set it on a cowardly number 2 setting, gingerly pressed down the trigger and waited.

Low and behold a few seconds later very faintly toasted bread popped out. No smoke. No charred edges.

Didn't quite feel right, but I served it to the kids with baked beans with mushrooms and sunny side up eggs, experiencing this vague feeling of playing at being mummy while I did so. Kids were thrilled. I felt a faint whiff of nostalgia for childhood tea times.

A few days later I tried again. This time I boldly set the toaster to 5, yielding surprisingly satisfyingly charrred edges to the toast, but not so much as to render it actual charcoal. I felt the stirrings of memory intensify, the scent of childhood breakfasts.

It wasn't quite what had drawn me to the toaster though. Something was missing

Two weeks later I found myself buying butter and marmalade. Butter I get from time to time, mostly to bake with or to make mac n'cheese. Marmalade though. I can't remember when I last bought marmalade. I don't even like marmalade. I don't even really like jam of any kind.

There it was though, an elegant little jar in my basket.

Once home I tried out my toaster again. Dark rye bread toasted to within an inch of its life on 6. Then I spread a thin layer of salted butter, topped with a heap teaspoon of marmalade.

I felt a twinge of something at the mere smell, but I was totally unprepared at the surge of emotion that washed over me at the first bite. Bittersweet like the marmalade, crisp and clear like the crunch of well toasted bread.

Oh Mum, how I've missed you.

No particular anniversary or memory, just the simple fact of being a mother myself I think, of wanting them to know the wonderful grandmother they'll never meet in real life.

Little things, like the smell and taste of her favourite breakfast, the way she liked her toast, her fondness for things crisp, bitter and tangy over sweet or plain.

My mother always joked that her madeleines really were madeleines. I joked that she just read too many French books.

I've just discovered that my madeleines are apparently burnt toast and marmalade. 

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