Ah, this time of year what can be tastier than a good cup of coffee with a couple of slices of toast, maybe with jelly?
That’s a nice snack to whip up for late night or early morning, right? Just the thing for these cold, wet, gray days here in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
But “the good old days” were another matter. You had to work, work, work for the simplest little pleasures — something we tend to forget when we grow nostalgic for the past.
Today, you plug in an automatic percolator that brews your coffee and then conveniently shuts off when it’s finished. Or, you can go the drip route, which also shuts down when the brewing is complete and can be programmed to prepare your coffee so that it’s right there for you when you wake up — like you’re the king of England or something equivalent.
Now, let’s brew up some java the way many of our older folks grew up doing it.
My parents, in their early days, had to earn their coffee. You’d fill up your percolator and put it on top of the stove — in our case a huge coal stove in the kitchen, with temperatures impossible to regulate with any accuracy.
Here’s an important note. You couldn’t just go off and watch TV while it was perking. There was no TV for one thing, and if you didn’t keep an eye on the contraption it would over-perk a form of coffee that you could have taken outside to fix a pothole.
So, you’ve got your coffee. Now, let’s make the toast.
For the longest time our “toaster” was a pair of tongs designed to hold a slice of bread over the fire. Then we upgraded to a toaster that didn’t pop up or shut off by itself or do anything except stage what today we call a controlled burning
You’d put in two slices, close the little doors and mentally time the operation. If you guessed right, you had two nice pieces of toasted bread. Otherwise, you had a kitchen that would have set off a smoke alarm, except that – like TV – smoke alarms hadn’t been invented yet.
Now you’re going to need some milk for your coffee and some butter and jelly for the two slices of toast. So, it’s off to the refrigerator.
Very likely the “fridge” is actually an icebox of uncertain temperature. Hopefully you remembered to order a big block of ice earlier that day or the day before, and so you’ve got milk that hasn’t spoiled and butter that hasn’t melted and jelly that isn’t turning into grape juice.
One misstep, though, and you’d kick the drip pan under the icebox and spill water all over the floor. Hopefully you’d have thought to empty it so you didn’t have to interrupt your snack.
If everything has worked well, you’re ready to enjoy your tasty treat.
A 1974 book by Otto Bettman entitled “The Good Old Days — They Were Terrible” punctures the myth that life in the distant past was some sort of Eden.
Nostalgia to the contrary, in most ways, we are better off today, and you can see that even in the simpler things of life. It’s been decades since I’ve heard jokes with punch lines involving road tar coffee and carbonized toast, two daily hazards our grandparents and their predecessors faced.
I just hope I don’t get lazy. Let’s see, where’s my travel mug. I think I’ll head out to the convenience store.
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]