79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gloriously funny with touches of unsentimental yet touching sorrow
It is one thing to write cookery books and a cookery column in The Observer and another to lay bare your childhood and upbringing for everyone to see. Most people would gloss over the parts of their life they don't want to confront, especially if the episodes do not show them in a very good light. It is also hard to relate that life without the effect of hindsight and the...
Published on 16 Nov 2010 by Bizgen
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting take on childhood
The book is well written, very personal nostalgia to the author. Interesting the way he looks at everything in terms of food. Bit sad, bit funny but I could have done without his adolescent sexual life.
Published 12 months ago by Babilula
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79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gloriously funny with touches of unsentimental yet touching sorrow,
It is one thing to write cookery books and a cookery column in The Observer and another to lay bare your childhood and upbringing for everyone to see. Most people would gloss over the parts of their life they don't want to confront, especially if the episodes do not show them in a very good light. It is also hard to relate that life without the effect of hindsight and the adult view of the events related.
Nigel Slater gives us his child's, and then his teenage view of his life, exactly as it must have been then, without the adult interpretation. This gives it an immediacy which is very poignant and moving. Children are self-centred and to some extent, selfish, and it is a very believable take on a child's-eye view of the world. He is unsentimental and his humour is sometimes cruel but throughout, his anger and loneliness palpable and penetrating. While we may look at his world, we are not asked to pity him.
Each nostalgic episode is given an item of food from the sixties and the story of his life is recounted as separate incidents, not in sequence.
We learn about his family, the odd uncle and aunt, his brother and adopted brother, his father's job, his mother's illness - all snippets related as they affect the infant Slater with vivid reality in a few lines of spare prose.
"It was a pity we had Aunt Fanny living with us. Her incontinence could take the edge off the smell of a chicken curry, let alone a baking cake. No matter how many orange-and-clove pomanders my mother had made, there was always the faintest whiff of Aunt Fanny."
We can see the lack of love in his life after his mother dies and can probably see that he is, indeed, a difficult child and he doesn't seek to present himself to us as anything else. His need for love is shown by his hidden desire for a goodnight hug in bed from his father, who is only to be able to manage chocolate marshmallows in substitution.
He certainly equates food with happiness - his description of Sundays making crab sandwiches after the jolly father/son experience of shelling the crab was a classic. And then, the simple phrase 'After Mum died, we never had crab again...'
Yet he was, in part, frightened of his father. "You wouldn't think a man who smoked sweet, scented tobacco, grew pink begonias and made softly-softly trifle could be scary....Once when I had been caught not brushing my teeth... his glare was so full of fire, his face so red and bloated, his hand raised so high that I pissed in my pyjamas, right there on the landing...For all his soft shirts and cuddles and trifles I was absolutely terrified of him."
As a child he was very difficult with eating, but yet he was discerning and appears to appreciate good food when it came his way, with a sophistication of taste and texture remarkable for a small boy. He was fascinated by Marguerite Patten's cookery book and used to read it by turns with Portnoy's Complaint behind the bookcase.
I found his complete recall of the `new' fast foods being presented in the 60's, fascinating. The fiasco with the grilled grapefruit, "I just thought how cool I was to have eaten grilled grapefruit. I boasted about it to everyone at school the next day in much the same way as someone might boast about getting their first shag."
Throughout the book runs the understated love for his mother and uneasy feelings about his father's new relationship with the cleaning lady, Mrs Potter.
"She was sitting there in one of the garden chairs, tight lips, tight perm, twenty Embassy and a cigarette lighter in her lap. 'Say hello to your Auntie Joan', my father said, enunciating her new name, quietly and firmly."
The culinary theme would not be enough to hold the interest and as an autobiography it must stand in its own right. There are no important people in Nigel Slater's story, no references of great significance and his portrait of middle class life is not affectionate. But he evokes time, people and place with such clarity and spare prose, with every episode linked to a precise memory, written in a vivid and energetic style. The people are just 'nobodies', and indeed, nobody would probably every want to write about them. Yet he makes them live their very ordinary lives under our microscope. That is why I think this autobiography is a fascinating read.
76 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for foodies,
Nigel Slater recounts his childhood with short stories. This book will make you laugh, cry and wince.
Unexpectedly this book contains more descriptions of a teenagers sexual encounters than you might imagine, but in line with all his other books Toast is a really good read with something for everyone.
If you have read his other books and are expecting another mouthwatering description of everything culinary then you are in for a shock as Slater re-lives his childhood.
Only covering his life up untill late teens/early twenties i wizzed through the pages and was left wanting more. Perhaps that is the best sign of a good book.
If you are buying this for a food lover, perhpas someone who has enjoyed Nigel Slater before, go for it, but be aware it doesn't follow completely in his previous books footsteps!
45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Salad cream and hostess trollies - my childhood writ large,
I laughed at every single page in the opening chapters. The descriptions of growing up in Middle England, with its associated food snobberies are ruthlessly accurate. Perhaps that's why so many of us 30-somethings are obsessed with the latest food innovations - we are desperate to obliterate memories of childhood salads of ham, boiled egg and lettuce leaf.
However, Slater is also tender in his descriptions of his mother and her struggles with her health, and remarkably honest about his relationship with his step mother. Having always admired his food writing, his honesty and directness shine through here, too. But be warned - you may never want to eat in a provincial hotel dining room again, EU regulations or no!
A remarkable tale of growing up from a remarkable personality.
73 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wake up in the morning and all you want is Toast,
Page one I was laughing out loud - by spaghetti I had tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks as I read extracts to my wife in between drying my eyes because I was laughing so hard.
The last book that made me laugh out loud was catch 22 - Toast is far easier to read and far more funny.
This book is a splendid multi course feast of events catalogued by food - Nigel you are a master story teller. If you remember your childhood with taste and smell this is the book for you - I'm only glad that we did not have our own Aunt Fanny.
10 out of 10 - you must read this pungent book.
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really drags up all those childhood memories,
By A Customer
I am a fan of Nigel Slaters cookery writing and was eager to see how he fared writing a memoir about his childhood. 'Toast' is an absolute delight. One one level it is a simple, pacy read divided up into short chapters, each covering a different memory, cleverly using the conceit of food- the texture, smells, flavours to tell the story of his childhood in 60's suburban England. Yet Toast is so much more than this. Slater had, and this was unknown to me before I started the book, a tragic childhood. His mother died when he was young and he grew up enduring a difficult relationship with his father and stepmother who grated with him from the start. The use of food overlays these memories as Slater describes his mother's rock hard Christmas cake and warm stacks of buttery toast- the ultimate sign of a mother's love for her son, and the difficult times after her death as his father struggles to use ready made products to nourish his son. All the difficulties of growing up are discussed- sex, relationships, friendship, bereavement, frustration, anxiety, lonliness, love- and 'Toast' weaves these into a heartwarming story about a young boy developing what would become a lifelong gourmet passion, trying to make his way in a difficult world.
43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweet and sour remembrances,
Nigel tells us his life story frankly with most of his best and worst remembrances directly associated to loved or hated foods and recipes. His nostalgic descriptions of childhood sweets that have long disappeared or his family's first introduction to 'foreign' food, canned Bolognese sauce slopped onto overcooked spaghetti, will rekindle memories for anyone who is a child of the '50's and '60's. His honesty makes you both chuckle and shed a tear as he takes you back with him to another age of rules, order, class and etiquette. Nigel's book tells that all food, good, bad, adored or despised plays a bigger part in our life than we would credit.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The joy of intelligent gourmet psychology,
Like so many other readers, I couldn't put Toast down once I had started. Like NS, I have always had a very intimate (not to say obscessive) relationship with food and his detailed and emotional descriptions of food, good or bad, ring so true. In Toast, food is the perfect analogy for NS's feelings and it is against his experience of different tastes, delicious or revolting, that he sets his emotional life. The mother who cooked under duress but at least provided love and affection is set in contrast to the stepmother who is mean and calculating but couldn't care less and is in fact quite cruel, but who lays on magnificent spreads - mainly for show. NS shows us how very intelligent and perceptive a child can be, not to mention painfully sensitive and vulnerable. What is also admirable is the way you feel he always comes to terms with the pain he experienced. There is still anger in some passages, but never bitterness, just an honest, human expression of understanding about the limitations of those around him, even if you still sense some frustration at what was lacking.
I always thought that Nigel Slater talked about food on his TV series like a child with his midnight tuck box, and I was always amused by the sexual undertones in his lucious descriptions of delicious food, mainly because I totally identify! This book is full of it and I really hope there will be further writings - totally delightful.
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A childhood blighted by food,
I heard this book on Radio 4's A Good Read where all three reviewers had enjoyed it immensely. When I bought and read it, for once I totally agreed with them, for this is a very funny and interesting book from a top food writer. The book is autobiographical but Nigel Slater tells the story of his childhood and youth through the food he ate and prepared. Each of the short chapters is named after a particular dish (Rice Pudding, Butterscotch Angel Delight, Candy Floss etc) and contains a story about a time when he ate those particular foods. For someone who lived through the same period Nigel was brought up in, this mean that many memories of 1950s, 60s and 70s dishes are revived in all their awfulness (and in some case, delight).
Nigel's mother suffered from chronic asthma and never mastered the skills of cooking and so eating at home was a mixed experience to say the least, particularly for a finnicky child like Nigel who hated so many foods (including milk). His accounts of school dinners is also memorable, and especially his experience of giving his school mik away to other children only to have his teacher call him to the front of the class one day to drink his milk in public (with predictable results).
The book follows Nigel's progress through school and into his first jobs in the catering trade. By the end, the reader will have developed a great deal of sympathy for Nigel and his problems with British cooking in the period he writes of. Fortunately he has dedicated his life to raising the standards which caused him so much trouble in his youth!
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and Poignant,
I read a borrowed copy of this over a weekend recently - as others have pointed out, it 'laugh-out-loud' from the off. Alternately coarse and sensitive, it is a rollercoaster of emotions for anyone who grew up in this era, with its now apparently arcance obsessions and preoccupations. For me, the food references are great, but the story of British life only a generation or so ago is the really striking aspect of this wonderful work.
I captures beautifully how stifling British life often was in those days. The emotional coldness of his father was a template for a generation of men, who genuinely believed this was the right thing to do for their children.
The cover photo is cleverly subversive - the front cover showing only a smirking boy, is funny and warm - but open the book out and you see his mum and dad. Mum has an awkward weak smile, and Dad a scowl at all this photography nonsense. What a study of middle class repression.
Although I grew up ten years later, it evoked wonderfully that whole world of 'elbows off the table', 'scrub the step' and asking to be excused from the table - that seems to have slipped away from us. A lovely book about a difficult childhood, that shows how far we have come, and what we lost along the way, in the space of a generation.
Now only £3.99 on Amazon - I think despite having read it, I'll get a copy anyway at that price, just to have on the shelf - whenever I fancy a little trip back to the past now and again.
Now - Stand up straight, shoulders back, eat your greens!
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a lonely child,
Being Dutch I am not familiair with a lot of the sweets and many other products Nigel Slater mentions in this book. Never mind, what a wonderful book this is! I discovered Nigel Slater only recently,we kind of met through "Simple Suppers". Intrigued, I wanted to know more, as I love the approach he takes to food and cooking. The internet was helpful of course, and made me even more curious.
To me the book was a delight, a feast of recognition despite the obvious differences. Beautifully written, fascinating and very moving too. What a lonely child he was. This is not just a story about a boy and his likes and dislikes, it also tells how formative childhood is.
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Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger by Nigel Slater