Do you scrape burned toast?

While making breakfast I scorched the toast. Automatically I scraped off the Cajun part before smearing  on some butter and homemade jam. Then I started to wonder: How many people would have just thrown it in the trash and started over?

I grew up scraping toast. My family would have considered it wasteful to toss charred chow, given how simple it is to fix.

Recently a thread started up on Not MSN Money, a community formed by so-called “refugees” from MSN Money’s now-defunct message boards. The thread, “What do you do with the heels from bread?,” asked readers whether they use them or toss them.

Guess what the answers were.

Bread crumbs, and beyond

People dry the heels (in the microwave, on the counter, in the toaster oven) and grind them up for bread crumbs. One reader mixes those crumbs with bird seed and peanut butter and smears it on pinecones for the birds.

End pieces are saved to become stuffing, toppers for onion soup, croutons made in a skillet or oven. They’re run through coffee grinders to clean them (can’t vouch for that one since I don’t drink coffee).

Cocooned around hot dogs, they eliminate the need for rolls. Mixed with egg and milk they become bread pudding. They’re smeared with peanut butter to make treats for dogs (or humans).

One woman puts bread heels under a meatloaf before baking, to absorb most of the grease. Several people suggested putting the heel in a container of homemade cookies or a bag of brown sugar to keep these items soft.

They make “the best toast,” insisted one reader; my sister says the same thing. And two heels used “inside-out” give you an extra sandwich from each loaf. This is a good thing, given the way food prices keep rising.

Our daily bread

People who have no qualms about throwing away food might think these ideas are a little extreme. The end pieces aren’t as attractive as the rest of the loaf. And surely anything scorched is ruined, right?

“Tightwad Gazette” author Amy Dacyczyn wrote of hearing groans of dismay from a television audience when she shared a frugal trick: If cookies are a little burned on the bottom, use a grater to scrape off the yucky part.

Some would consider that appalling. I thought it was clever.

Dacyczyn also wrote about a neighbor child who took a couple of bites of an apple and threw the rest into a pile of leaves in the yard. When Dacyczyn suggested another use for the uneaten fruit (apple crisp), the kid’s mother reacted with horror: What, pick up and use a “germy” apple?

The woman did have running water. How hard would it have been to pick it up and wash it off? To slice and eat the rest herself, or freeze it for a future smoothie or batch of applesauce? And maybe to tell the child, “That was a wasteful thing to do – next time you want to eat an apple you have to split it with someone.”

The waste of food in this country is staggering. It reflects poor stewardship of resources, an increasing separation from the production of the food we eat, and an inability to comprehend just how blessed we are.

If you are hungry in the United States, you will be fed. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, food banks, free school lunches (and maybe breakfasts), soup kitchens, WIC, church pantries and who knows how many other agencies can help.

Perhaps you won’t be fed as richly or conveniently as you’d like, but you will almost certainly not starve to death. This is not a country where pedestrians routinely step over the prostrate bodies (or corpses) of the chronically malnourished.

The gift we’ve been given

That’s not to say that people don’t go hungry here. They do. Which makes throwing away even a bread heel kind of startling. Do you have any idea how fortunate you are even to consider rejecting food that doesn’t meet your standards?

They say that if you watch your pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. I think this applies to our food budgets, too. If you use food resources wisely your grocery bill will go down, one sandwich at a time.

But it’s more than just frugality. It’s acknowledging the astonishing gift that we’ve been given: the ability to obtain food with relative ease.

Those of you who throw out leftovers because they’re “old,” i.e., they’re from a meal prepared two days ago? News flash: They got old because you chose not to eat them, because for you there will always be something else in the cupboard or in the pile of takeout menus on top of the fridge.

Or so you think. How many unemployed or underemployed folks out there are now eating the end pieces? Ask them if what they’d do if they accidentally burned the toast.

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  1. Holly Samlan

    I am a scrapper and also a heel user. I almost NEVER throw out food. I plan to use or freeze leftovers.

    The only thing I remember throwing out in the past year is milk. I am not a milk drinker and had bought a gallon on sale for a couple recipes. I tossed about 1/2. NEVER again. I now have powdered milk and make as needed.

  2. Bravo, Donna! It is very refreshing to read your post in a public forum and I hope lots of folks take it to heart.

    I’m a scraper and also we rinse off things that fall on the floor. Heck, the germs help build up our immune system!

    After living overseas for more than 30 years, mostly in developing countries, and seeing how most of the world’s population lives, my conscience pricks me mercilessly if I waste food or don’t recycle.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Peggy: When you see pictures/read accounts of people (including small children) digging through waste heaps for something that isn’t too spoiled to eat, you realize how spoiled we are.
      The very fact that we have the luxury of enough water to wash our food (as well as our clothes and our bodies) is another blessing I think too many of us take for granted. Imagine living in a place where the only water available might or might not kill you that day.

  3. Most of our bread is homemade and the heel is the first piece I eat just as soon as the loaf is cool enough to cut – and slather in butter. Homemade bread doesn’t keep for weeks but we manage to use every scrap – croutons, bread crumbs, bread pudding all work. Also there are varities of “breakfast casseroles” that are delicious and use old bread. You can find many recipes online. Just freeze odds and ends of bread until you have enough to make something.


    • Donna Freedman

      @Darla: I expect those breakfast casseroles are often some variation of bread pudding…? I’ve read about savory bread puddings but never tried making one.
      I’m surprised that homemade bread would ever last long enough even to get the hint of staleness. It smells so good I’d be tempted to eat half the loaf right out of the oven, as you say.

  4. My father is a depression baby. He’s 5’2″. We do not waste food.

    The heels of the bread are “the best part.” We scrape toast (though I’m careful not to burn it at all) and cut the burnt off cookies. Leftovers get used. We scrub instead of peel and eat the peels too. Bruschetta is our favorite use of stale bread. We compost things that go bad before they get eaten.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Nicole: Compost! What a good way to use up the dregs.
      I’m super-careful not to burn cookies, but if I ever do I’m going to try Amy D’s method, using the fine side of my vegetable grater. As a kid I always wondered why it had that side; we only used the broader cut, to make coleslaw or grate cheese.

  5. My mother wouldn’t let us throw away burnt bread. We had to scrape it off, and I still do it today.

    The heels of bread though… ARGH! Okay, it’s the same bread. I do not understand people who throw away the heels. I eat them in a sandwich just like any other piece of bread! When I was much younger, I didn’t like the crust of bread or the heels. But you grow up and realize it’s all in your head.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Red: I never liked the end pieces as a kid, but as there were six of us someone would eat those pieces. Now I just do the inside-out sandwich thing.

  6. lostAnnfound

    I scrape burnt toast and the bottoms of cookies. Try not to burn them to begin with. Sometimes I’ll scrape and then crumble and toss them crumbs out to the birds (they don’t let anything go to waste!).

    I eat the heels. The kids just don’t get that it’s the same as the other slices in between (better as far as I’m concerned). Or we stuff the container of homemade cookies to keep them fresh. When the cookies are gone, we take the dried up stale bread, crumble it up and give it to the birds!

    We have a leftover night the end of each week. Whatever is in the fridge is what is for dinner. Have something separately, combine 2 or 3 leftovers for a new dish, whatever you want, as long as the leftovers get eaten.

  7. Hmm–all your readers so far appear to be frugal saints. That would NOT include moi! My mother scraped her toast and ate cookies with burned bottoms. I didn’t. Not when I was a kid and certainly not when I’m an adult. In fact, I return burned English muffins when I breakfast at restaurants. I can’t stand the taste. For whatever reason, that same fastidiousnes does NOT apply to meats, where I love a good char. Go figure.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Grace: I’m with you on the taste of burned stuff — I always specify “lightly toasted” at the bagel shop.
      Not everyone is a frugal saint. As another commenter pointed out, the best way to avoid wasting it is not to let it burn in the first place. I try, but sometimes my attention wanders.
      This isn’t really about whether or not we always do things the frugal way. It’s more about us realizing how lucky we are to be able to say “I don’t want to eat the end piece” or “I don’t like day-old fried chicken” yet still have so many other options.
      Wasting food, to me, feels like rejecting an incredible gift: The gift of “enough.” We have enough, and some of us have more than enough, yet sometimes we decide our enough it isn’t good enough.

  8. Holly,
    I use the less than fresh milk as a buttermilk substitute for baking. It works fine.

    I love the heals and I even like the burnt part.

  9. I’ve always eaten charred toast as a way to soothe an upset stomach, same goes for heels- always ate them as well

  10. Bluezette

    The toast would have to be totally carbonized before I’d scrape it. I love anything that’s a bit burnt, especially the cookies. When I was a child, a beloved neighbor made the BEST cookies and always saved the overdone or broken ones for me. Now I reach for the darkest ones first.

  11. We bake our own bread, so the heels are a little different than store-bought bread – but my husband thinks the heel is the best part, so he uses them for sandwiches. Since we make small loaves we rarely have stale bread, but when we do I either toast them (it’s going to be crunchy anyway, right?) or they become bread pudding. The meatloaf dripping-catcher or bread crumbs are good ideas, too… I might have to file them away!

  12. Sherry H

    I don’t scrape burned toast – unless it’s black all the way through, I eat it char and all. Weird, I know, but I actually kind of like that scorch-y flavor. (I don’t burn toast on purpose to get it, though…)

    When we bought our bread at the grocery store or the bakery thrift store, the heels went into a bag in the freezer. On their own, they were sad, soggy little things, but they held up pretty well toasted and made into dressing. Now that I bake our bread, we fight over the heels. They’re the tastiest part of the loaf!

    (Would it be wrong to admit that when we slice the bread, we sweep the crumbs into a plastic tub we keep in the freezer? I’m well on my way to a meatloaf or batch of meatballs, though I’m not convinced the value of the crumbs outweighs the pennies spent opening and closing the freezer every time…) We try really hard not to throw away food.

    • Ah, another crumb saver! We save crumbs from breads, cookies, crackers, cereals, etc. and they all go in a small container that is used when we make the bird cookies. The crows and squirrels really love them–turn around and the lawn has been cleaned! They also get crumbs from things like cornbread that fell on the floor and was scooped up before the cats or dog got to it. But no one gets the heels from my homemade bread but me! It is the baker’s treat.

  13. Mollymouser

    I rarely burn my toast, but I’d probably go ahead and eat them, anyway …. it’s still bread! (I’m assuming you just mean overdone, and not charred into soft pieces of charcoal.)

    I eat my heels. Usually a bite at a time, while I’m working my way through the loaf of bread. (It’s my bread and no one else is eating it!) Sometimes, when making toast, I’m hungry … and the heel just sits there, tantalizing me with it’s siren’s call ~ take a bite! take a bite! take a bite!

    So I do! (grin)

    • Donna Freedman

      @Mollymouser: Yep, I’m referring to a light sear vs. a slab of charcoal. 😉 If I get most of the overdone parts off I’m fine with it. Yet another reminder to pay attention to what I’m doing. I’ve been multitasking so fiercely for the past five years that it’s hard to slow down.
      I didn’t like the heels of bread when I was a kid, but turned inside-out so that they look like “normal” bread they work fine for me. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.
      As I recall you eat special bread for health reasons. It wouldn’t do to waste one-tenth of it routinely. That stuff’s expensive!
      Thanks for reading.

  14. I used to throw the heels… then I realized that with the volume of bread we eat, it would be the equivalent of tossing 5 loaves of bread a year! Now I eat them as toast. Or I make my husband eat them. Lol.

    I come from a long line of toast scrapers… in fact, my grandmother had her world rocked when I informed her that her toaster did have a “light” setting. 🙂

    And of course, if a disaster happens during baking, I’ve been known to scrape cookies, too.

  15. I scrape (or cut) the burned parts off of baked goods. The burned bits wind up out in the yard for the birds and squirrels. As far as the bread heels, we never toss them. When I open a loaf of bread, the heel is the first piece to be used, I don’t skip over it to the first “regular” piece. It’s bread, it’s just as good as the rest of the loaf.
    As far as leftovers go, we eat any leftovers on weekends for lunches. I hate to throw food away… on the rare occasion I find a bowl of spoiled food in the back of the bottom shelf, I take it outside and bury it in the foliage, so it will compost.

  16. MaryLambert

    I’m not a scraper….throw some jam on it and eat it anyway. Never thought to scrape the bottom of cookies, though I’ve never seen a cookie go to waste in my house no matter what it’s condition! I do save the heels that don’t get eaten for bread crumbs. Also use them as hot dog “buns” when the grandbaby and I have lunch. Whatever (if anything) is left over from dinner turns into lunch the next day. My mother was born in the depression era and NOTHING got wasted, I learned from her. :o)

    • Donna Freedman

      @Mary Lambert: I always take the cookies out a little sooner than suggested (unlike my mom, who wanted them hard and crunchy), and I also found two of those air-filled cookie sheets at an estate sale (I think I paid 50 cents) so they bake more evenly. I can’t abide a cookie with a burned underside, but if it ever happens to me I’ll know how to fix it.

  17. Rebekah Gienapp

    Thank you for this post Donna. I hate it when I lose track of what’s in the fridge and accidently let things spoil. It’s part of my religious beliefs that food is sacred, and therefore we should be respectful in how we use it. The daily bread we are given is “our daily bread,” meant to be shared among us all. If we waste food, we lose an opportunity to share.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Rebekah: “If we waste food, we lose an opportunity to share.” I like that. Thanks for sharing it.

  18. You know that I’m a scraper. I was all excited when I was reading the beginning of your post.I thought- self you have to tell her the cookie trick. But it looks like you knew that too. I’ll just sit here and sulk about always being a day late and a dollar short!

  19. I love the ends for ‘toast with jelly’, so no issues here. And, if it was burnt (a bit) I’d just scrape it. I can’t stand throwing food (aka money) away…it drives me up the wall!!!!

    Great article, Donna! 🙂

  20. Okay, okay, I’m guilty of throwing out the heels of bread…but I always scrape the burnt toast….

    Actually, Donna this was a well written post about abundance and waste. We have an abundant supply of food here in the U.S., yet we still waste. I’d like to think I’ve gotten much better at food waste (meaning there is less and less of it). But, after reading this post, perhaps there is life for that heel of bread….

  21. Cathy Sullivan

    I’ll scrape toast if it is only a little charred. I love the heal of the loaf. We buy a fairly expensive loaf that has seeds all over it. Yum! For a treat, try “Dave’s Killer Bread”. The company is based in Portland, OR so it probably isn’t available everywhere.


  22. Laura P.

    I always scrape the burnt off the toast. Tastes fine!

  23. If its lightly burnt, I just put more peanut butter on it to cover the taste/crispiness. I eat the bread heels as they come out of the bag. I use them to make my sandwiches. If I am having toast, I will reach down and grab the bottom end.

    I recently burned some cookies. Not sure why I didn’t think to scrape off the bottoms. I just kept those for myself. Not my favorite, but I was taught to not throw away good food.

  24. I scrap scorched toast. I eat heels/ends of bread. As a child, I just refused or sulked if I was handed a sandwich with the ends. When I grew up and had to buy the bread, I ate ends. My children knew throwing fruit away was a punishable offense. They learned to bring it to us or put it on the counter or in the refrigerator. I rinsed the apple, cut off the brown part and ate it myself. Sometimes, I would slice it for them the next day.

  25. beautiful message…so true that only the rich (meaning anyone with enough to eat each day) can even think about wasting food.

  26. It irks me to see food wasted like the heals of bread. Yet I am the only one in the house that will eat them. People get into wasteful habits as kids and are not ever corrected. The water running to much is another pet peeve of mine.

  27. Thanks to Donna and the commenters…on so many levels. I feel so alone with my frugality! My husband makes a fabulous living now… but at one point early in the marriage we struggled to make ends meet while not touching our savings. Actually it was my husband’s savings from working several jobs as teenager. He saved 14k himself before 1990 at age 20 for college—and then kept working 3rd shift all during college to keep that money in the bank. People turned their noses up at us over our housing, frugality, etc never suspecting we had money in savings. Everyone else just seems to want status symbols. If you don’t play that game people assume you must not earn a lot. Most people cannot afford their lifestyles to begin with…my husband makes well into six figures but to live debt free our house and expenses are modest.
    We just cannot waste anything….we wear it out until Goodwill doesn’t want it anymore. As a country we are so rich and blessed. It’s about time someone was astute enough to point it out.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Ange: Don’t let them know you have savings — they might ask you for a loan. Seriously.
      Do what works for you and be happy.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.


  29. Alicia Barnett

    I never throw food out, unless it is at the unsafe stage! I freeze my leftovers and make a delicious meatloaf which I call “Garbage Meatloaf.” We have a good laugh about the name, but save a lot of money by using all the leftovers.
    Try it yourself!

  30. As kids we used to fight over the heel. As far as burnt toast, I always order that way. Making for myself at home always set the smoke alarm off.

  31. Our family have been guilty of waste in the past. When I cook a meal I try to make just enough so that there that there are not a lot of leftovers in the fridge. This has worked really well to eliminate so much waste.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Betty: Here’s another suggestion. Before you put the meal on the table, put a serving’s worth into a container, to be frozen or to be taken in someone’s lunch the next day. These “engineered leftovers” come in handy when you don’t feel like cooking or are feeling lazy and tempted to eat out instead of pack a lunch. There’s nothing wrong with eating out, but any time you can avoid it you’ll be shoring up your budget.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  32. One thing no one has mentioned, that my mother always did & so do I, is tearing up bread heels and using them, as some people do breadcrumbs, to stretch hamburger. I do this for burgers, meatloaf, meatballs, etc. With an egg, ketchup, and a little Worcestershire, it tastes great.

  33. Honey-Rose A. Gbologah

    It’s so true that there’s so much food wasted if one is not alert. From breakfast, lunch and dinner plates everyday, weekly, monthly and annually can amount to a lot. We are reminded in Scripture when Jesus fed the 5 thousand people with few loaves and fishes, and when the poeple had finished eating, he asked the disciples,
    ” Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted”. So they picked them up and filled twelve baskets with scraps left over from the meal of 5 barley loaves (John 6:12-13). This is a good teaching and we can wonder how many baskets of food each person/family waste.
    Are we then surprised why in the midst of abundance many remain hungry?

  34. Vic Robertson

    The heel is the best part of the loaf. It makes great toast. My daughter and I usually fight over who will have them.

  35. Pit bull girl

    To be honest, I scrape my toast and eat the heels . My girls ( all my female dogs) females rock! Love the heels with a little butter, it’s a change in their diet and they love the flavor!
    I find it wrong ( in my personal opinion) for people in the US to be wasteful, I was born in Mexico, I’m of European descent and my upbringing was ” saving oriented” just because you have in excess or plenty doesn’t allow you or give you the right to waste! And that’s what is so wrong in this country , we have lost that mentality of save for waters, that can be used etc..
    You have no idea, when I was growing up in Mexico the countless times people will ring the bell and ask for food!!! That doesn’t happen here, thank God!
    I can never forget that! I do remember that my parents wouldn’t let us see those things as small children, I guess they didn’t want us marked for life, but ghe times I was present when that happened have stayed with me forever! And it appalls me and shocks me terribly to see ghd waste that goes on in this society.!!!!
    By the way, all my girls are rescued! I don’t buy dogs.
    My five cents .
    I love your blog Donna!!
    It has been one of ghd best discoveries of 213!!!
    Thank you,

    • Donna Freedman

      The waste in this country is pretty startling. See my recent post on MSN Money, “How to prevent food waste,” for a really depressing average-waste-per-person statistic:
      When I was a kid, my best friend’s father was the school janitor. Every September he’d buy a couple of baby pigs for 50 cents apiece at a farm auction. All year long he’d feed them on what the schoolkids threw into the cafeteria’s garbage cans. In June he’d take them to a guy who would butcher and wrap them in exchange for a portion of the meat.
      He’d need to cover their food during Christmas and spring breaks, but basically he got hundreds of pounds of pork for free.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.


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