Ode to Hotel Toast: Part 1 in a series in which Sam reminisces about food and childhood

I’ve been thinking a lot about food choices lately. I’m not doing that in judgmental way. I’m interested in which foods resonate and why. What counts as comfort food? Me, I’ve got a soft spot for white bread. See In defense of (some) white foods (some of the time). My fave form is toast with jam. That’s definitely a childhood memory thing. Here’s my thoughts about bread with jam in the form of ‘hotel toast.’ This originally appeared in a zine (remember those?) called Philosophers on Holiday, edited by Peg O’Connor and Lisa Heldke. It’s from volume V, number 1-2, summer/fall, 2001.

Kafka's Resort--image from Philosophers on Holiday
Kafka’s Resort–image from Philosophers on Holiday

Philosophers on Holiday is a quarterly ‘zine launched in the summer of 1997 as the “hippest, nowest, coolest thing in the philosophical travel-and-leisure genre.” After the free inaugural issue, people actually subscribed. This just encouraged us to do more, and so we offer selected articles from our print edition here in cyberspace, filling yet another void in the field of philosophical travel and leisure. We borrow our motto from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein suggests that philosophical problems emerge when we forget how words function in ordinary circumstances. When language “goes on holiday,” we create our own thorny, knotty problems–and then we proceed to chew on them for a thousand years or so. Our ‘zine was born out of our recognition that when philosophers go on holiday, we also tend to thrum up thorny little problems that keep us worrying all the way across Montana. Philosophers, unleashed in the ordinary world, are dangerous–or, at the very least, highly amusing. Of course on a good day, we can also be rather insightful. (Paying way too much attention to the ordinary can produce real wisdom every once in awhile.) Philosophers On Holiday attempts to bring all things philosophical and holiday-related together in one place; the danger, the amusement, the bumbling, and, yes, the occasional pearl of wisdom.


In Newfoundland, where I lived from the age of 4 to 11- having emigrated from England with my baker parents and baby sister- the locals called it “fog bread”. White, wispy, insubstantial. Mass-produced, eerily free of mould for weeks on end. The bread of choice for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as well as such more traditional favourites such as bologna and mayo or margarine and sugar.

“My dear,” said a neighbour, “it ain’t much of a bread but it sure makes a lovely piece of toast.”
As toast was where I first encountered it. Growing up as a child of bakers who cared deeply about such things as the proper ingredients for bread, there wasn’t any of the processed white sliced stuff in our house. Sure, we had French baguettes from time to time, or nice, hard, crusty rolls. But just trying getting those in the toaster. The first time I had puffy, white bread was as toast in a hotel dining room. What a culinary eye-opening experience- hotel toast. Yum. Soft, squishy and evenly brown all over. It was the perfect receptacle for strawberry jam.
I remained convinced through a few years of my early childhood that there was something special about hotel toast, some special appliance they used, some secret recipe. Whenever my family stayed in hotels, I ordered toast. I even called it “hotel toast,” convinced that one couldn’t get it elsewhere. Years later I discovered the secret-the bread that my parents never put in the shopping cart because it was full of “artificial preservatives.” (Ketchup was similarly maligned and banned along with “miracle whip” and pre-fab pastry, individually portioned in plastic wrappers.)
The love of puffy white toast hasn’t successfully been transmitted through the generations. I tried some on my children while we were renting a cottage in Prince Edward Island this year. “Ewww, ick.” They replied. I’m sure their rebellion of parental standards take a different form. Perhaps they’ll admire lousy but successful arguments.