Folks collect some of the oddest things. I know someone who collects only potato mashers and smashers – and some of the early ones would qualify for the “blunt instrument” so popular in mystery fiction. – – – I have a few, but nothing like the more than 2000 I saw at the home of a collector who has almost every shape and variety of potato masher made between 1860 (the earliest) and 1960 (the latest). This collector sort of “fell into” collecting them when he tripped over a bushel basket holding a bunch of the old wooden “smashers” while antique shopping in Santa Barbara, CA.
There are just a few potato mashers in the above photo. I have several more but they require a bit of dusting and cleaning prior to their photo shoot… And none of these old things have any business in a dishwasher, so they have to be washed and DRIED by hand.
Lots of people collect utensils with the colored handles – Reds, greens, yellow, turquoise or blue, white and black, as well as the plain wood handles. Especially desirable are those from the ’20s and ’30s with BAKELITE handles. And the latter often sell for premium prices on the various collectible web sites, as well as ebay. I’ve seen these, either alone or in groups, sell for astronomical amounts at estate auctions, often surprising the sellers. One American made carving and “accessory” set, tortoise-shell bakelite, sold for $156.00 because four people were anxious to own it. The pre-auction price was $35.00.
Other favorite collectibles are the hand “choppers” or mezalunas, both double and single handle, usually with one straight blade but occasionally with two, rarely with three, and there are the “star” choppers with blades radiating out from the center. Age and appearance determine the price of these and some can fetch high prices.
Spoons – and by this I mean the kitchen “utility” spoons, usually with wooden handles, both solid and slotted or perforated. These are a workhorse in the kitchen and are probably reached for more than any other utensil. Spoons for cooking have been evolving for hundreds or thousands of years. No one knows just when some genius in pre-history figured out that if one had a broader and slightly cupped area on the end of a stick, one could more easily stir and sample what was in the pot. Inspiration! And that led to the plethora of shapes, sizes and quirks we have seen throughout the years when looking at spoons. Some of the designers way back in the early part of the last century came up with some great ideas – I would like to see some of those brought back because they were BRILLIANT! I have one spoon that in my opinion should be available today, in modern materials, because it is innovative and it works! I haven’t included any of my wooden spoons in this photo. They deserve a photo all on their own and that will be inserted later.
Special spoons with distinctive features.
First are solid bowl spoons that have MEASUREMENT marks on the inside, as well as a small, precise pouring lip, ideal for dipping and measuring one or two tablespoons of a cooking liquid and transferring it neatly. Frankly, I think this is a great idea and would certainly buy one (or more) if they were made today.
This slotted spoon is named a “Scraper Spoon” “Gets The Corners” and was designed for use in steep-sided skillets – like the cast iron ones of that era, to fit in the “corners” and get the flavorful bits that other spoons left behind. These were great for making gravy.
Then we have the ubiquitous spatula or “turner” for flipping eggs and flapjacks, turning fish, lifting cookies, patties and croquettes, scraping the fond from the bottom of a skillet and generally using it where a spoon just will not do. Again, in this category we have had an incredible number of variations, from the small serving spatulas or “cookie lifters” to the large commercial type that can be used to lift a brick if necessary. They come in all shapes and sizes, and there is even a “triple-blade” spatula that fans out when one pushes a lever.
Meat pounders – also called “battecarne” (Italian for “meat pounder”) also appear in many shapes, sizes and some look like instruments of torture. These are old ones, including my grandmothers which has the “waffle” type face on one end and what looks like a log splitter on the other – has a wooden handle. I’ll do some individual close up photos later. One has what looks like a bunch of nails sticking out of the face, not at all appetizing – I sure wouldn’t use it on anything I was going to eat. The other things in the photo are an ice “chipper” and a chocolate “breaker” and the ice chipper is a very odd critter indeed. It requires a block of ice to operate properly. If I get around to it, I will try freezing a block of ice in a milk carton and see if I can get decent photos of how it works.
The other items in the “miscellany” pile, heading this page, are odd bits and pieces that came into my hands as part of a group or in a box of “incidentals” and I will get more detailed photos later.
Whisks come in a bewildering array of sizes, shapes and some are specifically constructed for a particular task – like the “gravy-master” whisks that first appeared in the late 1920s and were designed to get into the “corners” of pots and skillets to thoroughly blend the fat with the thickening agent, be it flour, arrowroot, cornstarch or some more exotic ingredients. (Now the number of those has also become bewildering.)
The first photo – taken in 2011 – are all “vintage” whisks, most from the 1930s, although two are older but as these were in production for at least a couple of decades, it is difficult to determine the exact age.
The “flat” whisks are specifically for beating egg whites in a shallow basis – the way homemakers were taught in the 1920s. The oval whisks with the spiral wires wrapped around the loop were an “improvement” for beating whole eggs and blending an egg mixture with other ingredients to aerate them before using a spoon to fold dry ingredients into the batter.
The whisks with large wood handles are “Danish dough whisks” intended to mix dry ingredients with wet with as little handling as possible – as in biscuits, scones, etc., because too much handling causes them to become tough.
The next photo is of newer whisks, some coated with silicone (the colorful ones) to make them safe to use in non-stick pans. Engineers are still trying to make a “better” whisk that agitates the material with the least amount of effort.
The “heart-shaped” whisk at the far right, the one next to it, the ninth from the right and the black-handled whisk with the crosswise spring – next to the Danish dough whisks, are all “gravy” whisks. The one with the wood handle was sold as the “GravyMaster” and the heart shaped one as the “Sauce Master” whisk.
Some whisks are very efficient and work well. Some are simply a temporary fad but all in all it is a heck of a lot better than using a bundle of twigs, which was the ONLY tool available until sometime in Victorian times when some genius bent some wires, bound the free ends together and arranged the loops in the shape of a balloon that just fit the contours of a round bottom copper bowl.
Meringues were no longer an endless task so they gained popularity on the table.
Several people are attributed with the invention but I’m not all that convinced about the truth so those names will not be mentioned here. Whoever did it, I salute them.
The name says it all. These were useful for beating eggs in a small bowl or jar and were powered by hand. One shown here has a “splash guard” that kept stuff from flying out of the vessel. Some were sold with their own bowls onto which that splash guard fit perfectly. Some are longer – made for use in deeper vessels, some short and compact. These all still work, even though they may look a bit rough around the edges. I have a few more but have no idea where they are hanging out at present.
I should put knives on a separate page because I have a lot of knives of various shapes, sizes, brands and country of manufacture.
This however, is rather unique. It is a Finnish Fish Filleting knife (say that three times rapidly–) and is signed on the blade by the maker. It is extremely sharp and quite flexible, a necessity when removing a fillet from the curved ribs of a fish.
I don’t recall just when it came into my possession but I have had it for well over 25 years, before I moved here to the high desert.