As we've started to make more and more food from scratch, we've found that our need for kitchen tools have changed as well. Although I can and do make bread straight in the oven, I've found that the bread machine is great for set-it-and-forget-it days. My food processor gets used all the time, for everything from making pie crusts to shredding blocks of cheese. And my mini-chopper... What would I do without you? But for my truly back-to-basics food, I've fallen in love with hand-crank and antique "gadgets".
My first hand-crank appliance was my food mill. It's not an antique (though the design is), but I love how simple it is. I also love that there's hardly anything to break. Most of the parts are cast aluminum or stainless steel, and it could function without any of the plastic bits if absolutely necessary, though it would be messy as heck! I think it says a lot that I love it as much now as I did when I got it 4 years ago. Here's a picture of it in action, easily pureeing my applesauce:
My next gadget was an ice cream maker. I had been thinking about getting an ice cream maker, but the one I really wanted (a White Mountain with a wooden bucket) was WAY out of my price range. I could have gotten a Cuisinart or something for half the price, but they just seemed to lack personality. But while browsing at the Shipshewana Flea Market that summer, I came across a vintage Alaska Freezer Co. ice cream maker. It had a wooden bucket, hand crank, and the insides were wonderfully clean and functioned perfectly. Price? $25. And the funny thing is, after doing a bit of research, I found that Alaska Freezer Co. bought out White Mountain back in 1963, but changed the name back to White Mountain in the '70s. The design hasn't changed appreciably since the 1920s, so I basically got a $150 discount. Isn't it so much more fun-looking than a white plastic appliance?
And then came the sausage stuffer... I had been browsing on ebay, looking for a used one, when when I came across the Enterprise sausage stuffer and cider mill. Cider? And sausage? From one appliance? Both were things I'd been wanting to make, so I was sold! A bit of research revealed that I'd again found an appliance that was still sold today, with an unchanged design. So there went any hesitation I'd had that maybe the design wasn't very good. It's not like you can find many reviews on antique appliances, you know? So the search began. I looked at rusty, crusty Enterprises, thinking that I could restore them. I looked at fully-restored models, thinking that I didn't want the extra work. And then, I found it. It was clean and repainted on the outside, but the insides hadn't needed to be retinned. The price was still a bit steep at just under $200 including shipping. But it was gorgeous. And so this beauty became part of my collection:
My most recent addition was an Quaker City grain mill. Again, it's a vintage grinder, but it's still in production (though now it's powdercoated).
This one, I don't plan on using regularly. And it's not especially pretty. But it's all metal and completely repairable by hand. I wanted a grain mill to have for just-in-case, but all of the hand crank mills that were affordable were plastic and got terrible reviews. This guy is bomb-proof. The grind is somewhat coarse, and the wheat needs to be run through at least twice (unless you have arms of steel) to get flour. But if the shit ever really does hit the fan? I'll have bread. This is one place where I was willing to build in a bit of redundancy. The mill cost $75, and even if/when I get a good electric mill (like the Nutrimill), I'll still be out far less cash than if I'd shelled out for a Country Living grain mill, which is the gold standard in hand-crank mills.
But I'm not done yet... In the future, I'd like to add a hand-crank cherry pitter and an Arcade coffee grinder, which I think is probably the prettiest coffee grinder I've ever seen:
I guess, just like with houses, I like my appliances and gadgets to have some personality. And while the frilly-ness of the Victorian era appeals
to me not at all, there is something to be said for everyday items that
were designed to be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. I truly believe and try to live by the William Morris' adage that, “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything,
this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be
useful or believe to be beautiful.” I aim for my possessions to be both.