Raadvad is rad
Credit: Photo Courtesy eBay Danish-Mood danishmood.com

The people of Denmark are serious about their baking. The wonderful breads and pastries that come out of that country are famous worldwide, and even here in the states we have a whole line of breakfast sweets we refer to simply as “danishes,” much like Kleenex became the verbal standard reference for all facial tissues. But beyond the pastries, the Danes are pretty passionate about their hearty artisanal breads, especially their rye breads. These dense loaves, usually made with wild yeast starters, have thick crispy crusts and are often filled with whole grains. That makes them delicious, but also a bit hard to slice.

Luckily for the residents of Denmark, they have always had access to the products of the Raadvad company. Founded in the mid 1640s, it was originally a series of mills, which included a sharpening mill. This led them to begin to produce high quality knives and other kitchen equipment in the late 1700s. But it was the perfect storm of a knife company in a land filled with hard to slice breads that things really got interesting. In the late 1800s the company opened an inn to help serve the people who were coming to visit the factory and environs, and the restaurant there was serving lunches to guests who included members of the royal family. Anyone who has ever worked a busy lunch service in a place that serves bread and sandwiches knows that keeping up with the slicing can be something of a chore, especially since pre-sliced bread was still decades away.

But the Raadvad company, being a knife company, designed a solution. The bread slicer—or bread guillotine—was born. It's a handy gadget with a v-shaped wooden rest for a loaf of bread, and an arm with a specially designed blade for effectively removing uniform slices from even the toughest loaves. The operation was simple because the machine is made of solid cast iron with a steel blade, and even better, there's no need to get your fingers anywhere in the way of the slicing operation.

This is where I come in. A few months ago I had a not-so-minor kitchen accident involving my serrated bread knife, a loaf of my homemade sourdough, and a moment of distraction. While my left index finger has been healing fairly well, all things considered, my relationship with my knife is at something of a tenuous place. We decided not to divorce, and after our trial separation, we are back together, but a bit dubious of each other. Part of me is convinced that now that the blade has tasted blood it will want more. I still respect it, but I don’t love it the way I did before it bit me. Now I am in possession of the world’s most amazing husband, who took over the morning toast duties when I was one-handed and has retained them even now that I am back to full-functioning digits. We divide and conquer. I bake the bread, he slices it.

Since I am a passionate sourdough breadmaker, I often scroll through the bread baking videos on YouTube, and recently caught a short one out of Denmark about a man baking traditional rye breads. And at the end of the video, he sliced one with a bread guillotine. I had never seen anything like it, but I was mightily intrigued. It took four viewings to pause the video at just the right moment to see the brand name on the side of the gadget: Raadvad. Off to Google I went, to see if such a thing were available. And while they have not made them new in several decades, they are available on eBay and Etsy and through some auction sites.

They are not an insignificant purchase. Not a whim sort of thing, not an impulse buy—especially since most of them reside abroad and they are made of cast iron, so shipping costs can often double the price of the item. This is a special occasion sort of purchase and requires justification. For me, it became a simple link. My beloved husband makes my toast every morning, which puts him in direct proximity to the bloodthirsty bread knife, which is just waiting for its next opportunity to strike. I do not want him to get hurt, and I also don’t want him to stop making me breakfast. Ergo, he needed a vintage Raadvad bread guillotine for his birthday present as a deep expression of my love and gratitude for the literal daily bread. When I spotted one that was in amazing condition and was the same deep orange as our ovens, it sealed the deal.

I have to say, the thing works like a dream. It has a specially-shaped blade that catches the bread and slices evenly without crushing the loaf. You can easily adjust the thickness of the slices you want, and your digits are blissfully well away from all potential danger. My husband was very happy with the gift, because it is a big heavy machinery sort of toy and the design of it is super cool. He was also completely aware that the “gift” for him was really at its core about my addiction to vintage cookery gadgets, but because he is so lovely, he did not even once accuse me of using his birthday as an excuse to buy myself a present. And then he made me toast.

Strangely, since the new bread guillotine arrived, my relationship with the bread knife has gotten a bit better. Perhaps because I realize without the injury, I would never have thought to buy this fabulous new bit of gear. So while I still am wary, I’m also the teeniest bit grateful.