Burnt Toast: The Skinny Food Writing Competition

Reflections on the role of toast in one writer's life, from our Food Writing Competition

Feature by Caitlin Johnston | 12 Apr 2021
  • Food and Drink Writing Competition

Picture the early morning rush in 2014; a 12-year-old refusing to get out of bed, an anguished father dragging a duvet from his child's grasp, then immediate bonding over very different types of toast. 

Most school mornings started the same – my father would yell and roar, then hunker down in the sunlit kitchen to enjoy two slices of not burnt but blackened toast. The charred smell and thick powdered fog from our tin toaster would encase the kitchen and the shrilling smoke detector would ricochet through the house. 

My father and I had a dishevelled relationship, but our differences were discreetly quiet in the mornings, and he would often beg for my company at the dining room table. Fatigued and weary, I would drag my feet towards the direction of the bread bin, slot my bread into the toaster for two minutes – no more, no less – until it pounced onto my plate, all warm and golden-skinned. 

The two central loaves of bread in my life were Warburton's Toastie and Milk Roll, both served with lashings of creamy Flora. My Glaswegian dad opted for Scottish Plain: a thick loaf with two dark, well-fired crusts, packaged in cobalt and British cherry wrapping. For eight minutes, Dad's dough would frazzle helplessly inside its miniature oven. When the toast burst from the metal springs, he would slather the scorched surface with jewels of berry jam until his hands were sticky and his shirt-stained rose.  

Then, one morning, he didn't join me for toast. Fruitful mornings of teasing, bickering and full bellies were replaced with breakfasts alone in the dark kitchen: my mother's hushed wails replacing the once-ringing smoke detector. 

Dad's half-eaten Scottish Plain rotted in the bread bin for months. Now, more than ever, I miss the smell of burnt toast in the morning.

Caitlin Johnston is studying a masters in Multimedia Journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University. Catch up with her work at cjohns229.journoportfolio.com/ or follow on Instagram @caitlinjohnstn 

This is one of the selected pieces from our Food and Drink Writing Competition; scroll on to read more from our winning writers...