Cooking with the past for an extraordinary today

The newest gadget, the best counter top device, the finest, the shiniest, the biggest, the baddest, the best – it’s what we look for. Right?  Surely it will cook the food better.

Trust me, I love all of my kitchen appliances, devices, gadgets, whirly-gigs and utensils, but there is something to be said for inherited items. You know those old pots, pans, cooking utensils and the like that were passed down from grandma or your favorite aunt? The ones that have been seasoned so deeply no scouring pad can possibly power through it, and somehow, every time it’s used the food tastes better.

In my kitchen, I have an eclectic mix of different pots, pans and utensils I’ve had passed on from my mom, grandmothers, great-grandmother, Aunt Anitra and Great-Aunt Bessie. Among them an old flour sifter, a pastry cutter and a Kitchamajig. That’s the actual name of the utensil. This thing is brilliant. I have seen others manufactured today sold in some stores such as Ace Hardware, bearing the Ekco name, but they’re not quite the same as this one. It’s wonderful and my go-to item in the utensil crock that stands next to the stove containing a bouquet of spoons, spatulas, ladles and tongs. 

kitchamajig-closeThe Kitchamajig was manufactured by A & J Manufacturing Co., out of Binghamton, NY.  The company started in 1909 and in 1929 sold to the Edward Katzinger Company, which in 1945 became known as the Ekco Product Company1.  If you own one of these handy-dandy items bearing an “A&J” brand near the base and handle, then yours was manufactured before 1945.  I cannot find any evidence of the Katzinger Company changing the production mark after acquiring A & J Manufacturing, and since it’s common practice to keep products as they are, even in branding, for the purposes of ensuring a good bottom line with customer loyalty – we’ll assume for now that they continued the marking until they became the Ekco Group in 1945.

Does the date of the utensil matter?  No, not at all.  Does it give you some over-priced kitchen antique?  No.  In fact, when I was curious and began researching, “Kitchamajig,” and the A&J Company, the most expensive one I could find that matched the design on mine, was on eBay for $17.  I simply love the history of things.  In the case of this simple masher/whipper/spoon/strainer/server extraordinaire, it will have me wondering, “Was it purchased new?  Was it given by a friend or family member?” That’s when I start researching, looking into the history of something, even as minor as kitchen utensil.  

I do happen to have another, but it’s design is different.  The head is not shaped the same and the handle is a u-shaped piece of steel welded onto the head.  It too was passed down to me from my mom along with the other with the A&J branding and wooden handle.  I just don’t like it as much.  It’s not as comfortable to hold and the shape of the head makes it a great strainer, but that’s about it.  The other, you actually can whip, beat, strain, drain, you name it.  

pastry cutterThe pastry cutter – another Ekco product, but it always amuses me when people are visiting for dinner and they examine this tool with bewilderment.  I’m all, “Dude – it’s a pastry cutter.”  They’re staring at it, turning it over in their hands like the first caveman to witness fire.  Does no one use this anymore?  Maybe I’m the caveman, er well – caveperson, however you choose to phrase it.  The pastry cutter is so normal to me in a kitchen, that I can’t imagine not having or using it.  It was the first thing my mother handed me when I was a child being taught how to make the pie crust for our desserts.  

flour sifterThe flour sifter.  This lovely faded metal canister looks like it should be hanging off the back of a pioneer wagon crossing the prairie.  There’s something therapeutic about its use for me. A cup of flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into the container over a bowl and then squeeze trigger on the handle several times as the metal wire threshes it together, giving you a perfectly blended, light and clump-free mix below.  

Granted today, the quantities I bake in are much larger so I do usually use my mixer or food processor for many things, but when doing a single pie, a batch of biscuits, a batch of cookies – I go old school with a bowl, my trusty pastry cutter and my great-grandmother’s flour sifter.  I do so and wonder how many family dinners were prepared using it prior to stand mixers.  I get absorbed in the nostalgia of my family and these wonderful women who taught me so much and it just makes me happy.  That’s not a sexist shot – it’s just what is in my particular case.  For some, it may very well be their father, grandfather or uncle who taught them what they know in the kitchen.  

Everyone I know has something like this in their kitchen that they cherish deeply and the item is still referred to as the previous owner’s. My mom has, “Grandma’s cookie sheets.”  My father-in-law has, “Mama’s big pot,” and the list goes on.  Ceramics, glass, stainless steel, cast iron, copper, tea kettles, wooden-handled, whatever the case may be, they contain a cooking history like some gastronomical of our family kitchens.  

Whether it’s the sentimentality of preparing food for those you love in the kitchen-ware of those who loved you, or the memory of cooking with that person side-by-side, these items become a level of how we cook, not just what we cook.  That, my friends, is what cooking is about.  Being mindful of those experiencing the meal, appreciative of the ingredients and passionate about the journey.  That’s cooking.  That’s life.