Penguin Cooks: Kitchen Utensils by Bee Wilson
Writing exclusively for our #PenguinCooks series, the Consider the Fork author takes us on a tour of her kitchen, and the utensils she can’t do without (even if they’re being used in ways you may not expect.)
Potato mashers, I find, are fairly useless for mashing potatoes. It doesn’t matter whether they are the sort that look like bent spatulas or the ones that resemble a griddle with a handle attached. Unless the potatoes have been cooked to watery oblivion – in which case the mash won’t be good, anyway – there are always some lumps that get missed. As you chase them round the pan, the potato gets overworked and turns gluey. The potato ricer is far superior. It gives you lump-free mash every time. It’s also a satisfying thing to use, as the potato falls through the metal disk in a cloud of white specks.
Yet, I somehow hang on to my potato masher, which remains in my overstuffed utensil jar alongside wooden spoons and tongs, rice paddles and strainers. Maybe it’s because, as with so much else in my kitchen, it reminds me of my mother. And, making a cake one day, I made the happy discovery that while not very effective for mashing potatoes, it is a simply brilliant device for mashing bananas.
Our kitchens teem with objects whose best use was never imagined by the manufacturers. Someone told me recently that they use a melon baller for getting the hard bit out of pear cores. My rolling pin gets used for everything from opening coconuts to bashing praline to smithereens. One of my favourite American food magazines, Cook’s Illustrated, prints endless reader’s tips along these lines. For example, use a corkscrew for a ‘safer way to pit avocado’! Or ‘organise your herbs and spices in an over-the-door shoe organiser’!
Though comical, I admire the can-do spirit of these improvised techniques. In a funny way, they are true to the original spirit of inventiveness that gave us all the kitchen utensils we now depend on. When I was researching my book Consider the Fork, I started to see that even technologies as obvious as a fork for eating with or a pot for boiling, were not always with us. It took lateral thinking from the first people who adopted cooking pots to think it was worth experimenting with protecting food from the blast of the fire with clay. I like to think it’s the same sort of creative mindset that looks at a chopstick and sees the perfect tool for unjamming coffeebeans stuck in a grinder.
Bee Wilson is the author of Consider the Fork: A History of How we Cook and Eat, available now in paperback. Bee also writes the highly popular Kitchen Thinker column for The Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine, for which she has been named food journalist of the year three times by the Guild of Food Writers. Find Bee on Twitter here.