Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Household gadgets

Jodi, of Curious Acorn, has a most fascinating job as a living historian and today she has posted about the cookery demonstrations she gives in the kitchen of 1790. There are photos of the simple utensils that were used and lots of information about how people lived then. I love to visit this kind of museum and always head for the kitchen because it gives a clear insight into the daily lives of people of all classes.

In the days before mechanical and electronic labour-saving devices were available, the kitchens of rich and poor were probably similarly equipped, differing only in the size of room, the quantity of spoons, bowls and pots and, more significantly, the distribution of labour! The farm labourer's wife with a brood of 8 children to feed and clothe would have spent all of her waking hours in the kitchen, while the farmer's wife would have had a couple of girls to help her and the squire's wife probably had a housekeeper, cook and a host of servants.

How different today's kitchens:  light, airy and clean and crammed with utensils, gadgets and machines. My cottage is about 350 years old and I've been looking around the kitchen to see what would have to go if I were to try to live like the original inhabitant. Goodbye Aga and gas hob; farewell washing machine, tumble dryer and dishwasher; out with the steam iron, food processor, Kenwood Chef, microwave oven, centrifugal juicer, citrus juicer, electric toaster; then we have the cupboards and drawers filled with smaller gadgets: whisks, apple corers, peelers, presses and all manner of handy little tools that would have mystified my grandmother.

These are some of the things I found in a drawer. They have probably been there for years, I can't remember how they got there. Can you guess what they are?  One is a Tea Drip Catcher, one a SqueezeEase 'ideal for most types of tube' and I had to open the other item to discover its purpose:
Well, who doesn't need a set of labels for their cheese board?

I can remember the day that my mother got her first washing machine and later on a vacuum cleaner and what a difference they made to her life. I would hate to be without those items and I have serious withdrawal symptoms when I'm away from the Aga:
But I could probably get by without most of things I currently think of as essential. How about you? What is your most treasured or essential gadget and what is the most useless or trivial thing in your kitchen?


  1. I also like going to places where old fashioned tools and kitchen equipment is displayed. Things here don't go back quite as far as they do over on your side of the pond, but I don't think cooking and keeping house changed much until industrial revolution.

    When we retired to Florida, we didn't take much of anything besides photos and other small treasures – one of the only things I took was this fork (originally part of a five piece set I received as a shower gift 54 years ago) that has been washed thousands times.

    I'm not a gadget person. It seems more trouble to me to get out the rice steamer, crock pot, George Forman grill, quesadilla maker, deep fryer, hamburger maker, etc. than it is to use the work-a-day things that can be popped into the dishwasher. My husband, OTOH, is beguiled by gadgets. They fill our kitchen cabinets to overflowing and even spill out into the garage.

    Today, our tranquility is being disrupted because the part required to repair our 20 year old refrigerator is NLA (no longer available), so very shortly our old friend will be relegated to the dump and a newer model will take its place. :-(

  2. e
    I love the fork but you had me stumped with the quesadilla maker. I had to look it up in Wikepedia and I am still not sure about it - not something I've come across in England.

    Sorry about your refrigerator. It is really annoying when something has to be scrapped for want of a simple spare part. Our modern gadgets won't last long enough to get into a living museum!

  3. Thanks for the mention, Maureen! The farm where I work was originally owned by the prosperous Pratt family. The kitchen I work in was known as the "modern" kitchen because only eating and cooking where done there, as opposed to poorer families who cooked, slept, spun, and what not in their kitchen. The Pratts' were dairy farmers who could afford indentured servants. That's me! Mrs. Pratt sews in the parlor :) When I go home, I can't live without my food processor.

  4. This is the gadget we have and I have to admit the quesadillas are quite tasty and really simple to make with ready-made tortillas (or so the resident cooks tells me).

  5. e
    I envy you two things - the ability to link to a picture and the resident cook!

  6. Jodi
    The role you play as the indentured servant has quite a romantic appeal from the comfort of our modern lives. I'm sure it was a hard life. I hope the Pratts were kind employers.

  7. I'll email you instructions to link to pictures. You're on your own finding a resident cook.

  8. That AGA is gorgeous :)
    Most treasured and essential ?...I have my Grandma's Jam kettle which is invaluable and two of her pastry cutters...nothing fancy I just like the idea of her having used them too.
    We also have a couple of small handwritten notebooks of recipes which I should photo and share.

  9. e
    Thank you for the emailed instructions. Your method is more direct than the one I have been using.

    I'll have to put an ad out for the cook!

  10. Val

    I understand how you feel about the jam kettle and pastry cutters and I do hope you'll go ahead and share that notebook with us.

  11. m. no thanks necessary. Just send baked goods.

  12. I too remember my Gran getting her first washer,no more mangle in the cellar.We were in the garden and Grandad kept coming out at regular intervals saying "its washing now", "its spinning now" when we went in for lunch we found him sat right in front of it on a dinning chair just watching the drum!Im afraid i couldnt do without my washer and vac!

  13. Madness & Mayhem

    I can remember those days of awe and wonder!

    I am really impressed that all commenters so far have been so very virtuous. None has admitted to the terrible trivia that fills my kitchen drawers or are you all being coy?

  14. I confessed to buying totally useless plastic lolly molds (repeatedly..)that I never use but my befuddled brain obviously edited my

  15. Val
    You can blame the befuddled brain on jet lag but the lolly molds belong with my cheese labels!

  16. I'd hate to be without a freezer. I remember getting one when we were young and not having to wait for the ice cream van to arrive in order to have ice cream or a lolly. (It's not kitchen, but I'd hate to be without a hairdryer as well). As for what's least useful, we were bought an electric carving knife for a wedding present, and it was never even taken out of the box.

  17. Discussions on what modern convenience we think most useful are interesting.

    For me – a car of my own and an automatic garage door opener are at the top of the list. Next is my laptop/wireless printer/high speed internet connection.

    After that, continuous hot water, a fridge (the new one is working nicely and fits well in its space), washer/dryer and air-conditioning without which Florida is unlivable.

    Some kind of stove top and oven is useful as well as a microwave/convection combo and a vacuum -- I’d love a roomba.

  18. Rattling On

    I am using a lot of ice in the current hot spell, so I'd hate to be without the freezer. I've only been to one dinner party where the host used an electric carving knife - beautifully sliced beef that was tough as old boots!

  19. erp

    I like your list of essentials. (I bet your granny's was different.) I don't know anyone who has a robot in the house yet, although I sometimes think that I'm expected to be one! Let me know if you get one and if it obeys your instructions.

  20. I love my washing machine. I agonised over replacing my last one and decided in the end that I wanted something beautiful. It was expensive, but should - supposedly last for 20 years. There are lots of things I can do without but I simply cannot countenance the idea of doing without my washing machine.


I love to read your comments and promise that I will reply as soon as I can leave my garden, sewing room or kitchen!