Kitchen tools

Left: The old (potato masher, butter slicer, pastry dough cutter). Right: The new (Instapot hard-boiled egg tray, leaf stripper).


By Jane D. Brown

My twin sister Judi loves kitchen tools. She loves her air fryer, Instapot, vacuum sealer, bread machine, blender and food processor. She doesn’t like spending a lot of time in the kitchen. She’d rather be outside in her garden with her hoes, trowels, clippers, forks and shovels.

I, in contrast, love being in the kitchen, especially now that I’m retired. I like chopping the garlic, stirring the soup, kneading the bread. I have a few of the tools Judi has, but my small kitchen won’t allow more. And the truth is, I find my time in the kitchen almost as therapeutic as  outdoors.

Our farmer father loved tools of all kinds. He was a big fan of  “getting the right tool for the job” and always looked for the best new version. A few weeks before he died at 94 years old, he was enthused about a new can opener he’d discovered.

Pop also invented tools when he couldn’t find the exact thing he wanted. He created a livestock tether that screwed into the ground with a ball and socket so lambs or bulls could graze in a big circle without getting tangled. His “Tetherall” was cast copper and steel; today’s knock-offs are made of plastic.

Pop improvised in the kitchen, too, although that was primarily our mother’s domain. For years, we used a vice grip wrench to open the refrigerator after the original handle broke. He insisted Mom use one of the first pressure cookers, a stove-top electric frying pan, and an electric mixer. Mom drew the line at a dishwasher. She believed washing dishes was an important chore for us kids. Darn!

The kitchen drawers in the farmhouse where we grew up were filled with intriguing wooden and metal tools. One of my favorites transforms a stick of butter into 16 perfect squares. We sliced Mom’s homemade bread with a long steel knife that our blacksmith great-grandfather made. I still have the wooden-handled potato masher and the pastry cutter I remember our mother using. 

I used to wander around the Kitchen Store in the original University Mall, wondering what some of the tools were for. Like my sister and father, cooks often are looking for more efficient, effective ways of doing things.

But some of these innovations now just fill up my utensil drawer. Do I really need the red plastic tube that rolls the skin off garlic cloves, or the green plastic thingy with holes that is supposed to speed up stripping kale and chard leaves? They are colorful and look fun, but usually I forget I have them and take care of the garlic and kale the old-fashioned way. 

Recently Judi gave me a yellow silicon platform that fits in the bottom of the Instapot. She says it’s a quick way to make perfect hard-boiled eggs. It’s a pretty thing and a neat idea, but that would require getting my bulky pressure cooker out of the back closet (did I mention I have a small kitchen?) instead of boiling a pot of water.

I always appreciate Judi sharing these time-savers with me, but these days I’m not so interested in being more efficient. When I was a working mom with little time to even run to the grocery store, I was happy for the fastest, easiest way to get a meal on the table. I relied on the cookbook “Desperation Dinners” that promised a meal in 20 minutes or less. The labor-saving tools, already-diced garlic, and lemon juice in a plastic squeeze bottle came in very handy.

But now I have the privilege of time for chopping veggies with a knife rather than using the food processer and squeezing a real lemon with my hand. I appreciate the impulse to innovate and save time, but I’m moving back to the old ways. I like the emptier drawers and cupboards, too.

Jane D. Brown taught in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media for 35 years and has lived in Chapel Hill since 1977.

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