One may find this hard to believe, but humans have been toasting things since the beginning of time. Man discovered early on that the only way to separate the edible part of the grain from the husks was to toast it. Deliberate toasting of the grain would make it digestible and improve its taste considerably. The early oven resembled today's seashore clambake; a pit was dug, lined with flat stone, and a fire was set. Then the cinders were brushed from the rock, which left the pit very hot. The baker would lay the stalks of grain on the rocks and roast them until the grain and the husks separated.
By the time man made his way to the open sea, he had developed a way to harvest grain without toasting. He was now spoiled by the taste of a spongier product, but it was difficult to preserve during the long trips at sea. So, it was back to toasting the grain to keep it from being sacrificed to the weevils. These ships biscuits, also called pilot bread or hardtack, would play a major role in the development of our cuisine. One story goes that the addition of these stale biscuits to the daily ration of soup created the first "bisques" and began the tradition of garnishing soups with croutons.
In the days of the Greeks, poisoning of wine had been a favorite way of disposing of a rival or creating a short cut to divorce. Therefore, it was the custom of the host to raise his glass and drink first to assure his guests that the beverage they were about to consume was safe-a sign of friendship.
The Romans adopted the tradition, but added their own little tidbit of dropping a piece of burnt bread into the cup-hence, "a toast". It was believed that charcoal reduced the acidity in slightly vinegary wine and rendered it more mellow and palatable. This practice continued through Shakespeare's time, and today our word "toast" comes from the Latin "tostus", meaning "roasted" or "parched".
So, the next time you raise your glass, pop a muffin from the toaster, bite into a great French canapé or enjoy a wonderful goat cheese crostini, give a thought to our ancestors that toasted that early grain and started us off with some wonderful life long traditions.