[1) This is more than a story about collecting old kitchen gadgets. It carries a message: hang on to your family treasures, big and small. 2) I promise not to use the words “whimsy” or “whimsical”. If I do, shoot me.]
My motto: When it comes to the kitchen, why have new stuff, when you can have old stuff?
After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, I finally made my permanent move from my family home at the age of 22. To help get me on the good foot, my sweet mom gave me a plethora of kitchen implements, which she culled from her huge stockpile. Apparently, she had two of everything, and she generously shared the wealth with me. Many of the items she gifted me with had some age on them. And they all served a culinary purpose.
Over the years, I threw out nearly everything she gave me. Why? Because they looked old and used. Because I didn’t know how to use a lot of them. Because I was tired of hauling them around when I moved from apartment to apartment, to condo, to house, and finally, to my current, shabby apartment in Seattle, WA.
Now, when I visit antique stores, trendy décor stores, or the www, I see old kitchenware commanding much higher prices than what Mom charged me (she didn’t). Had I held onto what she gave me, I’d have a really fine collection of vintage utensils that would actually be worth a little dough. (Which reminds me: I even threw out the red-handled wooden rolling pin she generously donated to the cause.) — And, everything was useful; and above-all, it came from Mom.
One day I came to my senses, and I realized that vintage kitchenware is cool! It’s useful, sculptural, decorative, collectible and even historic. I’ve decided to at least partially rebuild my collection.
The great thing about my project: I can acquire many of these ingenious little items, which were made 50-80 years ago, for $10 and under. — Being a pensioner, I have little extra income; but I’m hitting the Goodwill, and I plan to visit summer garage sales, just to see what I can find.
Two things happened which made me want to restart my collection: 1) I somehow managed to hang on to a few items; and I saw a twin of one of them, hanging on the wall of a trendy shop, with a twenty dollar price tag stuck on it. 2) I found an old gadget in my apartment building’s community room which someone was giving away. I picked it up, scrutinized it, and was astounded by its unique attractiveness. — I snatched it right up.
I brought that treasure into my kitchen; and then, I rifled through my utensil drawer and cabinets, where I managed to find a few worthy items I had neglected (yay!) to toss. I took a look at them through new eyes, and I gained a new appreciation for them. I felt thankful that I’d hung onto them.
I’d like to share photos of some of the relatively few items I have, plus descriptions; and some history. — Along with a few observations of a philosophical nature.
I found this raggedly (ruggedly?) beautiful artifact from the 1930’s sitting on my apartment building’s “put and take” table. I initially thought it was some kind of Boy Scout project, where a kid had made something out of a tin can. I picked it up and realized it was a primitive, factory-made flour sifter. I need to show you another photo because it’s so strange.
Its design is truly bizarre. Most sifters seem to be crudely engineered; this one takes the cake (no pun intended). To use it, you hold it by the handle and shake it. I’m sure it works; but I already have a nice, functional non-collectible sifter, which I use when I make brownies.
If memory serves me right, this came from my Dad’s mother. I didn’t know his parents real well. Our family saw them only once or twice a year. So it makes me happy to have something Grandma used. I remember that she really liked to cook. Her Thanksgiving dinners were epic. — This 1940’s thingamajig works really well for grating Parmesan cheese. I think I’ve used it for grating ginger root a time or two, to add to Asian stir-fry. But mainly, it’s languished in the bottom of my utensil drawer for years. However, I spied one just like it at that trendy shop I mentioned earlier. And yes, it had $20 price tag attached to it. Now, I proudly display it on my kitchen wall, with the other items you see here. And, when I need some freshly grated Parmesan, it comes off the wall to perform as the manufacturer intended. – Did those folks ever imagine that their wares would be displayed in circa 2017 kitchens, hanging near beveled, subway tile backsplashes?
I use this straight-out-of-the-fifties item at least once-a-week to shred carrots for cole slaw or carrot-raisin-apple salad. (Hyphens!) It works pretty well for cheese, too. I can only imagine how many of these have been thrown away over the years. I know I’ve thrown out at least one. I think I got this one from Mom; it’s one of the few gadgets I kept. If you examine it closely, you’ll see it has so many different surfaces, which can process an array of cheese, fruit, spices and vegetables. (BTW, when I say “thrown away “, I mean that. Recycling was not part of the deal back in the day. An unbelievably large number of old things wound up in landfills all over America.)
This amazing-appearing tool comes into play during the preparation of the traditional Norwegian Christmas Fattigan, or Poorman’s Cookie (which I have never tasted). I scored it at Goodwill for $2. It’s made of cast aluminum. I’m not sure when it was made; but it has some age on it. I’ve seen newer ones that lack the crispness – the detail – of the casting process used to make this one. I don’t actually know how to roll out cookie dough, so I doubt I’ll ever use this. But as a sculptural object, it looks great on my kitchen wall.
I’m not sure what this is used for. Possibly a handmade “tramp art” piece, it was labeled “nutmeg grater” when I picked it up at a Queen Anne antique store* at its going-out-of-business sale (all too common these days). I wouldn’t begin to use it for something as hard as nutmeg. I’m afraid I would damage it. I’ve never seen anything like it on the internet. I bought it because I thought it was beautiful. *My Lower Queen Anne neighborhood’s last-remaining antique store closed due to developers buying the building in which it was housed. They proceeded to wait about two years before tearing the building down; now we’ve been looking at a vacant lot for a year. We could have been buying more antiques!
I’m sure you’ve seen oodles of these spring-loaded tools. And maybe you’ve thrown one or two away. I’d like to think this is the one my family got back in the fifties, which came with metal picks. — But I’m not sure. It’s about as simple a device as could ever be made. Simple geometry. Need a walnut cracked? No problem. — Well, Mr. Quackenbush was good at geometry. He also invented the extension ladder when he was just sixteen years old. And he introduced innovations to the kaleidoscope, a colorful device which saw a huge rise in popularity in the late 1960’s. But that’s a whole ‘nother story…. [I remember how much my friends and I enjoyed the wild, ever-changing, tumbling kaleidoscopic images. — Sometimes we actually used kaleidoscopes to produce them. Just kidding….]
They used to give away openers like this with a beverage purchase. Or, you could buy one for a nickel. I’ve heard that this particular model was a salesman’s sample. I’ve thrown at least a dozen openers away over the years. Some of which were probably way older and rarer than this one. Note that there are no moving parts; yet it can perform several functions. I’m going to assume this is a survivor from the fifties.
Next, we come to things I had, and have yet to replace:
My sculptural Mouli grinder made it all the way from France, to Yakima, to Seattle, before I mindlessly abandoned it in the trash. Now, I must have one. They’re actually small hand tools, made to work simple magic in the kitchen. They come with various disks, which you swap out depending on what you want to do to those poor little carrots and potatoes.
I’ve tossed at least two of these beauties. This is the once-ubiquitous (OK, once-universal) Universal grinder. It would make great cole slaw; but I’m like everyone I know. I go to the produce section and buy a bag of cole slaw mix. Because I don’t want to deal with a whole cabbage. Meaning, that’s a lot of cabbage for one guy to try to use up. Still, I’d love to have one of these bolted onto my counter. Impressive!
Obvious moral: I know people are always saying to pare down what you own – to downsize, to go lean. But I say: think twice (or three times) before you discard something. Maybe you just need to learn how to use it. Maybe you can save money by using it, instead of buying a new one. Consider how well-made it is compared to its modern equivalent; consider that its value may have climbed while it wasted away in your kitchen drawer. And, stop and think: is there a story behind the piece? Maybe your mom gave it to you, to help you get started, when you moved out on your own. Maybe it came from your grandparents. Where did they get it? What did they make with it? Did your grandma make your favorite treats with it? And really: when you see one hanging on the wall at a store in Portland, Oregon with a twenty buck price tag hanging from it (more like twenty-five, in Portland), you don’t want to have to kick yourself!
[Many of the things Mom had to get rid of when she moved into an assisted-living community were plastic kitchen gadgets. I guess she too came to think that the old shredders and choppers and mashers were outdated…. I wish she was still alive; she and I could collect together.]
Dang! I plumb forgot to include my aluminum colander. I see them on Ebay, going for 30 bucks! Folks are making lamps out of them, or using them for fruit bowls. I actually use mine for my tip jar when I play folk music concerts. It seems to work! 😉 The rest of the time, I keep bananas in them. For protein shakes.
This pretty jar is stamped with a July 14, 1908 patent date. My sister-in-law Elizabeth Anne gave it to me over ten years ago. Although it’s not an implement per se, I thought it should be included here. I use it for — what else? Holding my loose change. When I save up enough, I’ll go back to Goodwill and buy more stuff!
This is actually a laundry room item, made by Ohio’s Columbus Washboard Company. But it’s a handy utensil featuring a basic design; and it’s so pretty. Its design is right in line with its smaller cousins: make the simplest possible item, one that will make a task easier.
Now, see how long you can watch this “music” video before you go crazy. Until next time….