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Time To Declutter: 8 Dopey Gadgets That Must Go!

A retro melon baller taken out of retirement. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

A retro melon baller taken out of retirement. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

The C word– that is, clutter — is this year’s mantra. Or rather the D word — declutter.

When the utensil drawer jams and you need a hard hat to open a cupboard, it’s time to get a grip. But where to start? What’s the plan? What can be saved and what can be tossed?

Certain tools are essential: can openers, wooden spoons, rolling pins. My desert island luxury would be a concave board and a mezzaluna, which is brilliant for speed chopping, is easy to clean and provides Pilates-like therapy, thanks to the gentle rocking motion.

Cost does not always equal value. My Rolls-Royce of a garlic crusher languishes unloved because it failed in its primary task of effectively and evenly crushing the clove. Yet a freebie plastic kiwi fruit knife-cum-scoop is the perfect example of form and function — and excellent for al desko lunches.

Sometimes, of course, you really do get what you pay for: a sugar thermometer that won’t shatter, a marble pastry slab, a razor-sharp grater or a quietly powerful hand blender.

But there is no excuse for hoarding and cradling little-used gadgets and ropy old kitchenalia.

So, breathe deeply and liberate your drawers. To help in the decision-making, here are eight gadgets that have lost their way.

Melon baller

This is a gadget conceived for a single purpose: to cut little, round balls from melon flesh. The holes allow juice to drain during the process.

The basic technique is to press, rotate and scoop. It is a technique I have completely failed to master. My spheres are unruly shards, but I claim that as intended.

Some ballers have different-sized bowls at each end. Beginners should not try to use them simultaneously.

Butter curler

A Captain Hook-type butter curler. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

A Captain Hook-type butter curler. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

This frightening gadget is designed to produce decorative shapes from chilled butter. My pitiful attempts, however, usually ended with a greasy mess until I saw the light and simply stopped trying.

Now the butter curler lives in the same drawer as the melon baller. It’s time to say goodbye, old friends.

Grape scissors

Ornate grape scissors straight out of “Downton Abbey.” Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Ornate grape scissors straight out of “Downton Abbey.” Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

The Victorians generally did not approve of eating food with the fingers. It was instant social death unless you kept to the proscribed rules.

Only after the grapes had been correctly cut was it permissible to use fingers. Grape scissors were part of an army of utensils that also included sardine tongs, oyster forks and lobster picks. Boy, those Victorian housewives knew how to spend, spend, spend.

Lemon squeezer

Lemon slice squeezer in action. Or not. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Lemon slice squeezer in action. Or not. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

I’m all for a bit of refinement, but this is too naff for words. It contains one measly, flimsy little wedge from which you just get a dribble of drops. It is awkward to use, and you can never get the slice size right. But most of all, it is mean-spirited. I rest my case.

Avocado dishes

A pair of avocado dishes showing the wrong way to serve them. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

A pair of avocado dishes showing the wrong way to serve them. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

These are so very “Mad Men.” When we first encountered this thrilling new fruit — or is it a vegetable? — it posed a problem: how to eat it once you overcame the testicular shape, lizard-like skin and super-sized pit.

Tableware manufacturers were quick off the mark, and before you could say guacamole, these dishes hit the shops. You didn’t even have to peel the avocados. Simply cut open, remove the stone and dump in the vinaigrette or shrimp mayo. Martini time!

Today they are a rare sight. I suppose there’s not much else you can do with them once their basic function goes. So, my pretty ones, it’s off with you to the great avocado grove in the sky.

Cruet stand

Once a symbol of genteel living, the cruet stand has become increasingly redundant. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Once a symbol of genteel living, the cruet stand has become increasingly redundant. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

This thrift-shop find makes me a little sad. Made in the 1930s or ’40s, the pressed glass condiment container must once have been someone’s pride and joy.

But does anyone use them anymore? How many even know what cruet means? Or care? Grinders, mills and bowls have pushed them into domestic oblivion. I regretfully conclude it is time for the cruet to retire from active service.

Egg slicer

Boiled eggs meet their fate in the metal egg slicer. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Boiled eggs meet their fate in the metal egg slicer. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

The egg slicer is one of life’s most useless gadgets. Like a medieval instrument of torture, the slotted base holds a hard-boiled egg, upon which a hinged blade of fine wires whips down like a guillotine.

Invented in the 1950s, it slices eggs thinly and evenly, but, honestly, would you really want to? Occasionally, desperate columnists suggest other uses, like cutting strawberries and mushrooms.

So, no, it doesn’t make life that little bit easier, and when it comes to washing it, it is a lethal menace.

Sardine can key

A new-fangled sardine can with a ring tab. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

A newfangled sardine can with a ring tab. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman

Once upon a time, the search for the sardine key was like a mythical quest. It usually came in two pieces. The slotted part enabled you to roll back the lid, then you could lift out the sardines with the shovel- shaped bit.

Even then, you could never open the lid fully and would usually cut yourself on the sharp edges.

The pull tab changed everything. There are those who hanker for oil drips and bleeding fingers, but why? For my part, the key can stay lost. RIP, sardine can key.

Main image: A retro melon baller taken out of retirement. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman



Zester Daily contributor Clarissa Hyman is an award-winning food and travel writer. She is twice winner of the prestigious Glenfiddich award among others. A former television producer, she now contributes to a wide range of publications and has written four books: "Cucina Siciliana," "The Jewish Kitchen," "The Spanish Kitchen" and "Oranges: A Global History." She is based in Manchester, England, and is the vice president of the UK Guild of Food Writers.

10 COMMENTS
  • barbara lauuterbach 1·19·16

    Sorry, but I cannot part with my grape scissor!! They sit on a bunch of glossy grapes, which I serve as a lo-cal munchie for my Italian study group. We sit around the table, grapes and scissors in the middle of the table, we snip, eat and try to speak Italian!

    Butter curler has to go, can’t remember when I last used it.

    But the melon balller, I sue it for butter balls, avocado balls, etc. Just keep practicing.

    Fun story!!

  • enter name 1·19·16

    Sorry, I use an egg slicer when I make a sliced egg sandwish and to “dice” hard-cooked eggs. Slice it once across, turn and slice lengthwise, then upturn the diced eggs into a bowl. Not useless. I used it JUST YESTERDAY! Also, the two sides melon baller I use mostly to scoop out the core of a lengthwise sliced pear. Or to grab the core from the underside of a whole pear pre-poaching. My son has always loved CA pears. Now in grad school, the pear-core baller-outer is a must. We cut melons into squares, anyway.

  • enter name 1·19·16

    I’m not giving up my melon-baller either. Coring Bosc pears, forming cheese balls to stuff into pitted peaches to be wrapped in prosciutto and grilled, even occasional melon balls (!).

  • enter name 1·19·16

    My melon baller efficiently removes cores from apple halves – or pears – every day! And I use my egg slicer for quickly dicing boiled eggs for egg, potato and tuna salads. Rinsed off before residue dries on, it is easy to clean.

    Gotta’ have ’em!

  • [email protected] 1·19·16

    In defense of my melon-baller…which is rarely used for that task…works great hollowing out zucchini boats or other veggies. that you want to hollow out…I cook a lot and used to cook professionall so anything that speeds up the process and makes a neat job is for me! And, use my German made egg-slicer all the time…and not just for slices but I do it one way then turn the egg around and cut it the other way…great for egg salad sandwiches…hate mashing up hardboiled eggs…also the “julienned eggs” look really nice on a salad! Is that what that dish we found at a 2nd hand store is for; avocados? Wow…who knew…we bought it to use for salad dressings in photos for my blog. No defending that damned garlic press though or butter curler…it works but hey this is 2016 not 1816!

  • enter name 1·19·16

    Egg slicers are great for slicing fresh mozzarella too. ..

  • Gordon Bowman 1·20·16

    I use my melon baller to clean strawberries. It snips the top perfectly. I agree with the comments about the egg slicer and the grape scissors. Sure there has been progress like pop tops instead of a slot key, that was always a healthy challenge to use the key. As for the use of cruets, there’s nothing wrong with mixing oil and vinegar to order. Clean your drawers out and have fun doing it. Sorry I’m a traditionalist that believes that these tools serve a purpose. you don’t have to comply.

    • [email protected] 1·20·16

      I agree Gordon…and also, like any Italian will tell you…you mix your own dressing at the table yourself. And one of thing I always try to ensure is that a gadget or any kitchen thing for that matter can be used for more than one thing…like using the melon baller for strawberries! It’s the small appliances that make me nuts…unless you have unlimited storage space for one use things like egg poachers and so on…bread machines fall into that category for me…large and well. When asked about them, my response is to get a good stand mixer with that has a dough hook…you already have a thing to bake the bread in! BTW, I bake lots of bread!

  • enter name 1·22·16

    I use my egg slicer all the time. It’s staying.

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