JULIE BOTNICK (first published September 2012)
Each week, we rummage through the dark corners of our kitchen drawers to bring you an enigmatic item. We ask you to guess what it is in our weekly From the From the Back of the Drawer puzzle. To enter this week’s puzzle, visit this page. To read more descriptions of past items, visit this page. And, don’t forget to donate your odd items to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
This week, we found EL TOSTO TOASTER!
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum staff was armed with a fire extinguisher for this one. Testing “El Tosto” toaster from the 1910’s was not the first time we put our stomachs in harm’s way, but it was the first time we could say we had the chance of burning down the building in the process.
All went well, though, and we came out with a perfectly toasted piece of bread.
The “El Tosto” was one of the very first electric toasters on the market, the first probably being a Simplex toaster already being advertised in the early 1900’s. The “El Tosto” was one in a line of “El” products made by the Hotpoint company (allegorically named after housewives’ demands for electric irons with the “hot points”), the others including such items as the “El Perco” coffee percolator, the “El Chafo” chafing dish, and the “El Bako” tabletop oven. Albert Marsh made this electric toaster possible, patenting his “Electrical Resistance Element” in 1906 as an assignor to the Hoskins Company of Chicago. The chromium-nickel alloy was flexible, able to be coiled tightly, and led the way for other toasters.
This toaster is what’s known as a “percher.” The bread sits on a wire perch directly on either side of the center coils, and can be piled on top of the machine while cooling. The shelf can also serve as a coffee warmer or even, as the ad suggests, a rarebit maker.
Bonus: ever wonder how toast becomes, well, toast? It’s all due to the Maillard reaction, discovered by Louis-Camille Maillard in 1912. Amino acids, in the form of proteins, react with sugars at 310 degrees, a reaction that produces the caramel color and distinct flavor on foods from toasts to roasts.
Our Rating: Save it.
Design: Good, but not as great as the toasters that came out after this one, which had metal plates that incorporated beaux arts and art deco designs.
Originality: Excellent, as one of the very first commercially available electric toasters.
Practicality: Average, the even toasting being outweighed by the noxious smell and the terror of sticking in the Bakelite plug.