Cooking with Kitchenalia
Like many of us, I grew up in a house where the kitchen was the center of family life. From hanging around my grandmother’s kitchen I learned to cook, appreciate holiday traditions, and preserve my family’s culinary heritage. The cast iron pots, molds, mixing bowls and other items used to prepare our meals are now staples in my kitchen – still used as intended but also appreciated and displayed for their vintage aesthetic.
Kitchenalia, a term used to encompass cooking utensils and other items associated with the kitchen, is a popular segment of the collectibles market, and collections can take many forms and contain many different types of items including cookbooks, menus, advertising, cooking tools, canisters, molds, and appliances. In this issue we will explore a few of these areas in more depth, including storage canisters, salt & pepper shakers, nutmeg graters, trivets, pot holders, and kitchen glass.
In April, Judy Gonyeau and I took a road trip to the Culinary Arts Museum in Providence, Rhode Island. The Museum, which also serves as a classroom and archival library of sorts, is located on the campus of Johnson and Wales University, a school renowned for its Culinary Arts and Hospitality programs. While its collection of over 200,000 kitchen-related items, amassed over a 35-year period of time, is impressive in and of itself, it is the ever-changing displays, vignettes, and special exhibits culled from the collection that put these items in context for future generations of chefs, scholars, and collectors. By studying old cookbooks and menus, and understanding the evolution of food – from the tools of the trade to how it was prepared, where it was served, and how it was packaged and marketed, students and scholars of the culinary arts can use the innovations of the past to advance the future of their art form. You can read more about the Culinary Arts Museum on page 34.
Last May at Brimfield I met Jim Klopfer, who took the opportunity of our meeting to share his passion for nutmeg and nutmeg graters, so I knew when we were putting this issue together he was someone we needed to call on for an article. The nutmeg grater is one of those fascinating innovations that over the centuries have become a staple in most kitchen gadget drawers. Despite nutmeg graters originating in seventeenth century England, the “kitchen-mechanical” or “patented” nutmeg grater is purely an American invention introduced in 1850 by Albert Hadley, a baker from Lynn, Massachusetts, and his neighbor, the tinsmith Edmund Brown, who together created a solution to the laborious and inconvenient task of granulating the quantities of nutmeg required by bakers for their recipes. Although the “Brown & Hadley Rotary Nutmeg Grater” was designed as a tool for bakers, the practical nature of finding less arduous ways of grinding nutmeg quickly caught on, and other companies began producing their own versions of mechanical nutmeg graters. The demand for mechanical nutmeg graters died down when the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 assured that the “ground nutmeg” sold in containers was 100% pure, but interest among today’s collectors for what was created during that time span continues to grow. Most graters found at antiques & collectibles markets tend to be “Common,” and not worth much (under $100); however, there is great value to be found in building a nutmeg grater collection if you know what you are looking for, as you will learn in Jim’s article on page 30.
While I don’t believe I ever paid too much attention to early kitchen tools, appliances, and collectibles prior to immersing myself in this issue, it was all that caught my attention last weekend at the Renninger’s Extravaganza in Kutztown, PA. While time, technology, and mass production have made many of these items easier to use, more functional, and lighter weight, it is the earliest iterations that stand the test of time and hold value, being desirable among collectors for their ingenuity, simplicity, form and function.
So what about the future of kitchen gadgets? What will the next generation of Kitchenalia Collectors be looking at? How about a solid aluminum “15 Percent Ice Cream Spoon” that makes eating ice cream easier by using the temperature of the hand holding the spoon to slowly melt the ice cream? Or a “Toaster Wrap” that rolls up and stores easily after toasting your bread to free up counter space? Or a cutting board with scale so you can chop and measure ingredients all in one place? Or, “The Qumi,” a cooking device shaped like a balloon that can be used for heating, frying, and steaming, and can only be controlled through your mobile device?
While no one knows what will be the next big device or appliance to revolutionize the kitchen or food preparation, one thing is certain: we have a veracious appetite for using and collecting kitchen gadgets.
Publisher’s Corner: June 2016
Cooking with Kitchenalia