In the heart of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in a tiny crossroads town, I heard rumors of a baked delicacy: Trenary Toast. A hard, dry cinnamon toast that has long been popular locally across the UP. It didn’t immediately sound appetizing, but my love of cultural history and roadside attractions confirmed the Trenary Home Bakery cafe as a stop on the way to Marquette.
Pulling off of M41 confirmed what the satellite map showed, a slowly vanishing old town not unlike some in my neck of the woods. The Trenary Home Bakery stood out as the hub of activity with a few cars parked in the street. I strolled in only to find they were closing in a few minutes; just enough time to learn about their famous in the UP toast and buy some for myself. Thinking it would be a good snack on our road trip, I was surprised to hear it has a one year shelf life. Well, of course I bought a few bags to take home.
So, what exactly is Trenary Toast? From what I’ve read, it goes back to the Finnish immigrants who settled in the UP back in the early 1900s. In those days, mining was the big industry in the region. It is a twice baked bread, which has been coated in a cinnamon sugar mixture for both taste and preservation. Cinnamon’s natural properties are what gives it the year long shelf life. At Trenary Home Bakery, they begin by baking loaves for fresh white bread, which is then sliced. The slices are coated with the sugar mixture, then baked a second time. I imagine, much like the Cornish pasty, the hard toast was easy to carry along for long days working underground in the mines and became a staple in many homes across the area.
There are several flavor varieties and I bought home the traditional cinnamon, plus vanilla and cardamom. The texture is similar to a dense crouton; hard at first bite. The woman in the cafe told me it’s a good dunker, and I wholeheartedly agree. A quick dip in coffee and it’s much easier to eat. It also makes a good combo with yogurt for breakfast. The flavor is what really stands out. It has a concentrated cinnamon punch, but not overly sweet. All three varieties were excellent, but the uniqueness of the cardamom gets a thumbs up from me.
Dating back to 1928, the Trenary Home Bakery is really two buildings. One is a purely production facility, churning out nearly 1000 bags of toast per day, and a cafe next door. The cafe has a coffee counter and several tables to sit and relax. Visitors will find bags of Trenary Toast, fresh baked cinnamon rolls and rye bread, plus some souvenirs. The little town of Trenary is right off M41, the main highway cutting across the heart of the UP from Escanaba to Marquette. Blink and you’ll miss it. Trenary Toast can also be ordered online and shipped to your home from their website at TrenaryHomeBakery.com
In the course of my travels I’ve found local foods and good family owned eateries are becoming more difficult to find. Pull off any highway exit and you’ll find the same homogeneous mix of gas station and chain restaurants. Our journey around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was a refreshing change of pace, though there was definitely a mix of hits and misses at each meal. The Trenary Home Bakery was a stop that renewed my confidence in the success of small businesses surviving because people love their unique and quality products. It will from now on be a dedicated stop whenever I’m in the UP.