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Long, long ago, in another life time, I used to cook for members of the public in circumstances which would make quite a good challenge for a cooking competition.
I had no electricity beyond ‘caravan’ lighting, a minimal amount of space, and no freezer beyond the ice compartment of the fridge. Nor did I have someone turning up in a van with supplies. All our shopping was done on Saturday morning by my husband, while I cooked breakfast for our eight passengers.
At the time people were fond of saying how they despised gadgets, they needed nothing but a good sharp knife to work miracles. As someone who was cooking for up to 12 people, four courses (which became three the following season) with only a good sharp knife (although to be fair, I had several) this made me feel just a tiny bit resentful. However, I did have a ‘mouli-grater’ which was something my mother had had. This French invention was a sieve with various grades of coarseness, and a mechanism for pushing soups or whatever through. If I wanted breadcrumbs I bashed my dried out old toast with a milk bottle.
I didn’t have any sort of Kitchen Aid to help me with the cakes I baked daily, along with scones for afternoon tea, I had a bowl and a wooden spoon. I didn’t have a bread maker either, but I made bread the old fashioned way every other day. My passengers loved their wholemeal toast.
Latterly I had one of those mincers you fix to the work top with a g clamp but I think I just used it for breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs were important as I used to put all those leftover triangles of toast that the passengers didn’t feed to the ducks went in the warming oven and when they were crisp I’d grind them up and use them in a recipe. I was very, very economical!
Not being convinced by this ‘sharp knife’ argument I bought a meat slicer. It would have been very useful had it worked. Sadly the suckers which held it to the worktop (oh for a g clamp) didn’t hold it to the work top and it skidded around making it useless. This was a point for the sharp knife brigade.
I bought a mandolin – not a musical instrument – in spite of the man selling it to me begging me not to. I did see his point as I began to use it – it was very easy to chop your fingers off with a mandolin. The sharp knife brigade was winning and I was still resentful.
Eventually, my need for a baby and a garden and a dog, in no particular order meant we left the canals and eventually moved into a house. A proper house with mains electricity and at last I could have gadgets.
The first one I bought, not counting things like a deep freeze a gadget, was a wonderful electric grater. My mother had one and so keen was I to use it, I worked out how to put a plug on it. (Sidebar of feminism – my husband had gone away to sea by this time, I only had a very small baby to do it for me and he wasn’t keen. In those days things didn’t come with plugs on, you had to get out a book to learn how and put it on yourself. I had a neighbour telephoned just as a fuse had blown – nothing to do with the grater. I said I was in the dark and she said she’d send her husband down to fix it. Thanks to the wonderful How to be a Superwoman by Shirley Conran, I had mended it myself before he arrived. In those days I wanted to be a self-sufficient and independent woman. Note the ‘in those days’ – ie now – not so much!)
I subsequently bought many gadgets, the ice-cream maker, the cream maker (butter and milk, weird texture) and so on and so forth. But what am I now? A gadget or a good sharp knife person?
I hate to say this because it’s a bit like changing your religion or something really important but I am a bit more ‘good sharp knife.’ I do borrow my daughter’s Kitchen Aid sometimes and certainly covert them when I’m watching Bake Off. I have a food processor I mostly use for breadcrumbs (it’s a theme running through my life) and I have a hand-held mixer. But that’s all. Now it’s more about saving on the washing up. And to be fair, I don’t often cook for twelve people these days. And I do have lots of sharp knives.
Love Katie x