Eating & Drinking: One man and his toaster

Only the country that built the Spitfire and the Rolls-Royce engine could have produced the Dualit
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The Independent Culture
IT'S A BIT like a boy and his dog. There is a bond that exists between a man and his toaster that is thicker than blood; a bond that goes way beyond mere convenience. It is a bond that comes simply from knowing that each will be there for the other, no matter what.

Yes, I am one of the toaster dependent. It is, after all, one of the few pieces of machinery that I can operate. It has seen me through thick and thin, through rye and sourdough, through bagel and crumpet.

In spite of seeing me at my worst (early in the morning and late at night) it never ceases to be bright, gleaming and truly efficient. After all, a toaster can turn something uncooked into something cooked in about 90 seconds - that's faster than a microwave. It's a miracle. It's especially a miracle when spread with butter.

You may lord it over me with your latest Swedish thingummybob, your eyes still wide with the shock of its price tag. "Look!" you may cry. "It whips! It stirs! It slices! It chops! It grates! It blends! It defrosts! It kneads! It juices!" But I am not impressed. I simply point to my toaster. "Look," I say. "It toasts."

My toaster may have changed its physical form over the years, but my relationship with it hasn't changed. It has survived the swing-door stage, the pop-up era, the retro chic second-hand job, even the ironic post-modern reproduction.

The best of them all was an ancient, skinny, old flip-door manual toaster. My bread used to love it. Because there was air around the slice as it cooked, it never got all steamy, which seems to happen in the new plakky machines.

Sadly, it had one minor fault. If you took your eye off it even for a second, to glance at the newspaper headlines, or to add milk to your coffee, it would notify you that your toast was cooked by sending out great billowing waves of acrid smoke.

In the meantime, I have flirted with toaster ovens, and burnt my fingers on toast and sandwich makers. I have grilled bread on and under grillers, attached it to hand-twisted wire forks over campfires, and attempted to toast a crumpet on a gas flame during a power strike.

While I didn't realise it at the time, I was going through a very necessary journey, treading a crumb-strewn path towards the pinnacle of achievement: the perfect, the ultimate toaster. Many attempt this journey and fail. Many more don't even realise it is a journey. But I have now Arrived. I refer, of course, to my current, and I suspect my last, toaster in residence. The Dualit.

Only the country that built the Morris Minor, the Spitfire and the Rolls- Royce engine could have produced the Dualit. This is where good bread wants to go when it dies. This is toaster nirvana. Invented in 1946 ( it takes a good war to produce a good toaster) by engineer Max Gort-Barten in a workshop just off London's Old Kent Road, it is a 20th-century classic that is destined to toast well into the next millennium. It is virtually unchanged since the refinements made to the original modelling in the Fifties, and every handmade unit is stamped with the assembler's individual mark.

What I like most about it, apart from the fact that it looks like an armoured car with slots in the top, is that there are no dark or light control knobs, no fancy extras, and no pop-up mechanisms that scare the life out of you if you have just the tiniest hangover.

Instead, it employs a timer and a "stay-warm mechanical ejector", which is Dualit-speak for a lever. It means that, after the timer has turned off the high temperature panels with etched foil heating circuits, the toast stays warm inside the toaster until you have finished reading the headlines, or stirring sugar into your tea. There is a crumb tray that slides out for easy cleaning, and an adjustable foot for uneven kitchen surfaces. (Handy if you haven't cleaned up the crumbs for a month or two.)

I had to sell the car in order to pay for it, but that is neither here nor there. With the price of bread these days, you can't be too careful.

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