Corn Toastees
©2020, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

The things you remember from childhood...

Having breakfast one recent morning, I was brought back to 1974 and my familyís trip to Boston. The nation was being rocked by something called Watergate. I didnít understand this; for one thing, I took the phrase ďWatergate PlumbersĒ literally. There were people who fixed water pipes for a living involved in a political scandal? By the time we were on the train back from Boston to New York, Richard Nixon had officially resigned; while we were at a brief stop in Providence, Rhode Island, Gerald Ford became President of the United States.

During this trip, we made at least one stop at a Howard Johnsonís for breakfast. Other than a relatively small number of hotels, the name has largely disappeared from public consciousness. Iím as likely as not to think of the one-time New York Mets third baseman instead when someone brings up the contraction ďHoJo.Ē

That was not the case for the previous generation to me. Founded in 1925 by, yes, Howard Johnson, the company once boasted the largest restaurant chain in the United States, and branched off into motor lodges and groceries. Many of their buildings featured a distinctive orange and blue motif including an orange colonial style roof with a white cupola. The last Howard Johnsonís restaurant was in Lake George, New York, and you canít get anything branded Howard Johnson in the supermarket any more either.

But somewhere in Downtown Boston in August 1973, we had occasion to eat breakfast at a Howard Johnsonís. It was likely to have been the morning after first arriving in Boston and having a mediocre yet extremely expensive dinner the night before in the restaurant of the hotel in which we were staying. I expect my father declaring that we wouldnít be going back there again! And we didnít.

The breakfast menu had the usual fare, with one exception, something called ďCorn Toastees.Ē I didnít know what these were but they sounded intriguing, so I ordered them. What arrived was two perfectly toasted squares of cornbread, about a half inch thick, kind of like flattened tops of corn muffins, with just the right amount of butter melting over them and served with a side of orange marmalade. They were delicious! And they were gone quickly.

I didnít object at all when the next morning, we went back to Howard Johnsonís for breakfast. Two corn toastees werenít really enough, so I ordered four this time and they were devoured in double time.

From that point on, I pestered my parents to find corn toastees. There was a Howard Johnsonís in the next town over from where we lived but not for long as it fell victim to the overall decline of the company. So much for that source, and besides, my motherís usual response to my request was ďWhatís wrong with what we have for breakfast?Ē

And then, jackpot!

We were shopping in the local A&P and what should there be in the freezer section but boxes of genuine Howard Johnsonís Corn Toastees. There were also Blueberry and Orange versions but no thanks, I wanted the originals. The pestering reached a crescendo until my mother relented and purchased a box for me. That box lasted exactly three breakfasts, two Corn Toastees each.

For a while, Corn Toastees pushed my other morning choices, including waffles, toast, English muffins, and cereal, all down the preference list. Like any number of fads, however, I eventually lost interest in them and while I still enjoyed eating them once in a while, the previous choices took back their places on the menu. Some time after that, the A&P stopped stocking Corn Toastees. I donít know whether it was because they werenít selling or because they were no longer available. As far as I can remember we never went to a Howard Johnsonís again either, even though there was one in the next town over to us. The usual rationale for this was ďif weíre this close, weíll go home and eatóitís cheaper.Ē I would wind up using this with my own children years later.

It would be at least a few years before a product was available that wasnít from Howard Johnsonís, wasnít called Corn Toastees, and wasnít even square. But it also wasnít bad, and every so often I get a craving. And, as youíve probably guessed, it was while I was satisfying that craving that I flashed back to a breakfast in Boston.