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Vintage Kitchen Treasures

There are many reasons to hang on to old kitchen tools (beyond satisfying your secret hoarding addiction.) Here are five good reasons to keep those old graters, grinders and pans you just can’t seem to let go.

1. You can’t bring your grandma back, but you can bring her back into your kitchen.

I cook with my Grandma Willie every time I step into my kitchen. Her perfectly seasoned cast-iron skillet has helped me make many a grilled cheese sandwich for my daughters. I think of her when I feel too tired to stand at my kitchen stove and I wonder how often she felt the same way. And I would never make a cake without putting it in my grandmother’s cake carrier (even if I’m only carrying my cake as far as my own dining room.)

The downside of this strategy is that when your old equipment finally breaks, it will break your heart. I’ve never mourned the loss of a newly purchased tool, but I must admit that I wept when I broke the glass lid to my Grandma Willie’s sauce pan.

kitchen gadgets

2. The old stuff works better.

In my experience, this is true about 70 percent of the time. Case in point: meat grinders. I recently saw a review of meat grinders on an episode of the PBS television series “America’s Test Kitchen” by the folks at Cooks Illustrated Magazine. They reviewed a number of meat grinders and determined that the new hand-cranked meat grinders they tested all jammed when grinding sinewy pieces of meat. The new versions also produced an unacceptable amount of wasted meat. This certainly isn’t the case with my grandmother’s meat grinder.

At the very least, old tools will suffice in most circumstances. If an old kitchen tool is rusty, broken or made out of a material unsafe for its intended purpose, then by all means toss it and buy a new one. But in many cases, older tools have the advantage because they are meant to last. This is especially true when considering tools with blades. The old blades are frequently made of stronger metals built to be sharpened and last for years. New tools are frequently made to be thrown out when the blades get dull.

3. It keeps “junk” out of the landfill.

Far be it from me to call old kitchen tools “junk,” but I know that’s what many people think of them. The key is to keep only the pieces you’ll really use and steadfastly refuse to buy or otherwise obtain a newer version of that tool. If a well-meaning friend or relative tries to persuade you to buy a new version of an old tool you love, simply reference Rule #1.

For example: “It’s so kind of you to buy me this beautiful new whisk, but I simply couldn’t beat an egg without Great-Aunt Ruthie’s old whisk. Perhaps you should keep it for your own kitchen.” Even the most hard-hearted of gift-givers will promptly hand you the return receipt for the unwanted kitchen tool. If necessary, you can even make up a deceased relative to keep do-gooders at bay. The gift-giver may even be grateful since many of us frequently buy kitchen tools for others that we secretly covet for ourselves.

If I can’t live without an old tool and can’t find an “extra” one at the homes of friends or family, I troll thrift stores and antique shops looking for vintage kitchen tools. I keep a running list of desirable items that I always search for, hoping to come across them one day. A tall covered cake carrier and pretty sugar bowl top my list at the moment. Sometimes I find something I don’t know I need until I buy it, like my favorite potato ricer, which is much sturdier than my new one.


4. New tools are expensive.

It may not be chic to mention it, but I don’t like spending a lot of money on standard kitchen equipment. I’d rather buy cheap “classic” equipment and use the price difference to stock up on spoonulas and quick-release aluminum foil (two new products well worth buying, in my opinion.)

To save myself the cost of buying new tools, I have often tried to sneak away from my parents’ home with an old kitchen tool hidden in my suitcase. This leads to a certain amount of awkwardness when I inadvertently use it in front of family members, but it’s worth the risk. (A certain heavy-duty roasting pan comes to mind, but it’s best to say no more about it here.)

5. Old kitchen tools make great wall-art.

I enjoy having good art in my kitchen, but I also like to use old kitchen tools as “art with a purpose.” My friend Daniel proudly displays his grandmother’s cabbage slicer on his kitchen wall, but gets it down from its hanger every few months to make a new batch of sauerkraut. My kitchen walls are covered with a pizza peel my father made me and a set of hand-carved miniature kitchen tools made by a 90-year old woodcarver in Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains (who went by the unlikely name of Rooster Cogburn.) I use the pizza peel regularly and my daughters love the miniature rolling pin. But there are times when even a beloved heirloom tool has “gone to its maker” and outlived any possible usefulness. I won’t throw it out, anymore than I’d throw out myGrandma Willie’s disintegrating 1911 cookbook. The “tool” becomes “art,” hanging on my kitchen wall as a reminder of great cooks past and the years of love and craftsmanship in the kitchen to which I can only aspire.

Zester Daily contributor Susan Lutz is a photographer, artist and television producer. A native of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, she currently lives in Los Angeles, where she is writing a book about heirloom foods and the American tradition of Sunday dinner. She also blogs about the subject at Eat Sunday Dinner.

Photos, from top:

A vintage cake carrier and cake.

Miniature wooden kitchen tools carved by Rooster Cogburn.

Cabbage grater.

Credits: Susan Lutz

Zester Daily contributor Susan Lutz is a photographer, artist and television producer. A native of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, she lives near Washington, D.C., where she is writing a book about heirloom foods and the American tradition of Sunday dinner. She also blogs about the subject at Eat Sunday Dinner.

  • Susan Wakefield 8·24·14

    Wow. I too treasure kitchen implements I’ve inherited. And I do use them. My mother’s flour sifter and rolling pin (with green wooden handles), her mother’s rotary beater and donut cutter (with red wooden handles), my mother’s glass cake plate and aluminum cover (wish I had the matching canisters, but I do have the matching salt & pepper shakers, which always sat on the stove top). And the aluminum items: lemon squeezer, drink stirrer, the big round tray on which Mom would arrange a supper for a hot summer evening: lettuce, tuna salad, tomatoes fresh from the garden, slices of cheese … Ah, memories. Just a week ago I bought another old rolling pin, this with red handles – because it came from a nearby home, and most likely is from 1930, when the women whose house it was married.
    Thanks for the memores.

  • susan lutz 8·24·14

    Susan- It’s nice to hear from someone else who uses their old kitchen tools. You’re so lucky to have your mother’s glass cake plate. Those beloved glass items sometimes don’t do so well over time.