Butter curlers and melon balls: the kitchen utensils I can’t throw away
The drawer is packed like Tutankhamen’s tomb but we won’t dispose of anything
As a young man living in the city I was oblivious to the allure of the Magimix but years of country life have made me more susceptible to its charms. During long winters perfecting my pheasant curry, I wept as I sliced onions, winced when I grated my knuckles along with the ginger and cursed if I wiped an eye while chopping chillies. Now I blitz the lot in seconds and though I feel vaguely guilty, as if I’d cheated somehow, the curry tastes just as good.
We have all the usual electric devices in our kitchen: some multifunctional with many mystifying attachments and others with a specific purpose. I’m now quite fond of the whirring wand-like thing, which whizzes through chunky soups and turns coarse broth into sophisticated bisque. My wife has always been an early adopter of whatever technology is going and I’m learning to be less of a Luddite but we both still harbour affection for simpler, more traditional single-use utensils.
This is just as well because we have a drawer full of them: some bizarre, some perplexing, some ingenious, some plain and simple – all of them pleasingly and precisely suited to a very particular task.
We have the regular array of utilitarian stalwarts such as potato mashers, whisks, various peelers, a pizza cutter, ice-cream scoops, cheese graters and a garlic crusher with a cunning extra prong that stones olives. There are also the occasionally necessary things like corn cob holders, steak knives, an apple corer, a smaller, fine grater for Parmesan and a tiny, superfine one for nutmeg. We also have an abundance of briefly fashionable corkscrews and many wine stoppers. The latter are mostly superfluous as open bottles are usually briskly emptied.
The “not yet used but one day will be ‘just the thing’” category includes a lime squeezer, fondue forks, an oyster shucker and lobster picks. Finally there’s the esoteric verging on weird stuff: a small wooden thing specifically for drizzling honey; an old yoke for slicing beans of a certain size; a falafel shaper and a double ended melon baller. Who really needs more than one size of melon ball?
The drawer is packed like Tutankhamen’s tomb and difficult to close however we won’t dispose of anything.
To use a current buzz phrase, everything in it “sparks joy” – partly because each item is connected to food and therefore triggers memories of delicious dinners, but also because most of the more arcane artefacts are inherited and tenuously connect us to the past.
In summer the strawberry huller enjoys its brief season. We pick the crop and remove the stems with the simple gadget – its design unchanged for years – then eat the fruit immediately. Achieving instant gratification in the present moment with a timeworn utensil from the past offers a snapshot of earlier, more graceful lives. Or maybe I romanticise and my forefathers just greedily golloped handfuls then spat out the stalks ... like my sons do now.
Throughout the rest year my wife, when she chooses, can remember a beloved aunt by using her butter curlers and butter paddles – the old lady could shape butter in any way imaginable. And every day, consciously or not, we recall our parental and grandparental homes by using our mixed family silver cutlery.
It can be handy
Certain items are rarely deployed but can still fulfil a need. My granny’s ornately engraved silver cake slice usually lives in a felt bag in a box under the stairs but I’ve found it can be handy for serving quiche. Then last Halloween I finally used both ends of the melon baller to hollow out a pumpkin. Like the kettle drum or the cowbell in an orchestra, even the obscurest kitchen tools have their solo moments: but they also have their hazards. Recently my wife and I were looking forward to an evening out with friends when our hostess - an expert cook with a fully armed kitchen - rang to cancel.
She had inadvertently removed the top of her finger while using a mandolin to thinly slice spuds for Pommes Dauphinoise. She sounded blithely unconcerned, cheerful even, but perhaps she was giddy from loss of blood. I commiserated heartily and silently regretted missing a good dinner.
When we next met she showed me her newly deformed finger and I showed her an old turkey carving wound. Then we swapped lurid tales of bloody encounters with super sharp knives until we both grew queasy.
My wife was unperturbed: she stoically dismisses her own kitchen scars as too minor to mention. Besides, her knife kills are black belt level. She uses a whetting stone AND a steel - depending on which blade she is sharpening. But in her secret heart, she is ultimately devoted to the Magimix.
Philip Judge is currently touring America with the Abbey in Roddy Doyle’s TWO PINTS and his book In Sight of Yellow Mountain is published by Gill