Toast racks — the perfect symbol of the waning days of the British Empire?
We had them. I suppose we had adopted a certain amount of British culture. I was probably the most eager Anglophile in the family, being utterly addicted to Beezer, Topper, Cor!, Whizzer & Chips, Beano, Dandy, and those smaller World War II comics (and very reluctantly forced to consume a rare Look & Learn). Captain Scarlet was the coolest person in the world.
Anglophile that I was at the time, it didn’t extend to all British food. I was wary of the chunks of kidney in the steak and kidney pie (snake and kitten pie to us), and I recall being held down by my older sisters who smeared Patum Peperium (the Gentlemen’s Spiced Anchovy Relish) on my upper lip because I hated the smell so much.
Our Kenyan cook made roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and leg of lamb with mint sauce and brought toast in the morning in toast racks (less ornate than the ones pictured on the site). But when the cook was off, my dad was true to his roots in the American South — baking ham crusted in brown sugar and spices, making cornbread, and once making me scrambled eggs with calf’s brains though he didn’t tell me what it was until after I had eaten.
You absolutely must have a butter curler if you have a toast rack!
My mother would receive shipments from her parents in Iceland that sometimes consisted of what looked like a roll of newspapers. She would cut the string holding them together and there would be a week’s worth of Morgunblaðið but that was a cover. Deep inside was the dreaded bag of harðfiskur — Icelandic dried haddock that ponged worse than anything known to man. She would keep it in the safe — a safe with a four-inch thick door built into a concrete block in the stairwell of the bat-and-bee-infested, hundred year old house. But us kids could still smell it and we would hold our noses and groan like we were dying every time we passed it.
So toast in toast racks accompanied the fried eggs and bacon and grilled tomatoes, which followed the slice of papaya with a quarter of lime to squeeze over it. Sunday lunch was always “curry” — British colonial style lamb in a thick Bisto gravy flavored with Ship Brand Madras Curry Powder accompanied by papadums and bowls of chopped pineapple, mango, green onions, grated coconut, hard-boiled egg, etc.
Then back to school in Nairobi on Monday when I would try to cadge a bit of my friend Thomas’s sandwich because he was Swiss and his mum sent him to school with sandwiches of white bread, butter, and chocolate sprinkles, then spending thirty cents on a bag of curry peas or chevdo, then tracking down Surapol Boonthanakit because he always had sweets that he dipped in Thai chilli powder that would burn so badly you had to have more.
Toast in toast racks and soft boiled eggs in white porcelain egg cups accompanied by butter curls — you absolutely must have a butter curler if you have a toast rack!
Traditional British Empire Standard Issue Butter Curler
John Fulmer and the editor of this website were classmates at primary school in Nairobi, Kenya.
John is an archeologist by profession. After graduating from Hospital Hill Primary School in Kenya, he graduated high school at Phillips Exeter Academy and graduated university at Dartmouth College. His doctoral studies and research in Anthropology and Archeology were conducted at University of Southern Mississippi and at Washington University at St. Louis.