There are lots of newfangled “green” kitchen tools on the market these days, and many are pretty cool. But a key factor in any product’s sustainability is its durability. If something lasts a good long time and is made with an eye to quality, you’ll never need to replace it, recycle it or upcycle it. In the spirit of celebrating all things well made, we asked you: What is the oldest tool in your kitchen?
When I asked myself the question, I immediately thought of the retro-cool fondue pot my mom found at a garage sale in the early ’90s and the smattering of cast-iron pans my dad has always used. I have no idea how long these tools existed before I did!
We weren’t surprised to hear that the cast-iron pans, molds and skillets of yesteryear are still banging away in today’s kitchens. The oldest cast-iron pans we heard about were April Graham’s 200-year-old muffin pans.
When it came to brand names, the favorites were KitchenAid, Griswold, White Mountain, Sunbeam, Le Creuset, Revere and Vitamix.
KitchenAid is the Nauman family’s favorite long-lasting brand. Tim Nauman learned how to cook from his mother, Carol, and remembers fondly getting to pour the ingredients for her Oatmeal Raisin Cookies: A Favoirite Family Recipe into their yellow 1970s-era KitchenAid.
Many of us look to the kitchen to connect to our past. Lynne Howe’s family uses their great-grandmother’s hand-crank grinder every Thanksgiving to make the family’s cranberry-apple-orange relish. Andi Cacciatore uses Mom’s unusually shaped cheese grater to make her Italian recipes. Brandi Andrews’ family can’t imagine making the family cookie recipe without their old Foley fork. Karen Wilson finds joy in using her mom’s food mill and canner and her grandmother-in-law’s kitchen scales, because these connect her “to those women in my life who taught me the skills I need to feed my family.”
We were also delighted to hear about family histories being handed down through tools. “That was Grandpa’s ice cream scoop from the ice cream shop he owned in the ’60s,” you may hear in Rachel Hoff’s kitchen. “This is the cake icing knife our grandfather used in his turn-of-the-century bakery in Memphis,” they may say in Deborah Canale’s kitchen. “This is Daddy’s butcher knife from his very own butcher shop,” they’ll say with pride in Mary Jane Plemons’ kitchen.
Rolling pins in particular remind many of you of your ancestors. Leann Duncan uses the rolling pin her grandmother used in 1910. Marianne Mason Sievers adores the 2 1/2-foot-long, 5-pound, 82-year-old rolling pin her grandfather made for her grandmother for Christmas in 1929.
Some of you consider information to be a tool. Props go out to the following old tomes kickin’ around in modern kitchens: Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire circa 1903, The Household Searchlight Recipe Book from 1935, Larousse Gastronomique circa 1938, and Betty Crocker circa 1950.
Some of your oldest tools were more useful than sentimental, especially the manual grinders, graters, ricers, mashers and mills that you use to smash, smush and slice nuts, coffee, wheat, potatoes, tomatoes and more.
Another reason many of you keep old gear around is simply for its beauty — granite, stone, enamel and wood tools, to be sure. Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author of The Wabi-Sabi House, is enamored by “the patina of graceful aging,” and believes keeping these things around can help us “set aside judgments and our longing for perfection, and focus, instead, on the beauty of things as they are, at this moment.” In that spirit, Barb Berg Lewis loves using the spoon made from an olive tree that she received as a wedding gift. Engin Tanis digs the family’s copper coffee grinder from Turkey. MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editor-in-Chief Cheryl Long treasures the delicate wooden spoon she got at the famous homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing.
And we owe a shout-out to all of you jokesters who think the oldest tool in your kitchen is ... your spouse! (Barbara Ann Gillies, Susan Melcher Hansen, Susan Okeefe — I’m talking about you!)
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For our next reader call-out, we want to hear about your cleverest kitchen organization ideas. Go to We Want to Know: What Are Your Cleverest Kitchen Organization Ideas? to post yours, and check out our Facebook page for more call-outs.
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