Why I Get Sentimental About Old Kitchen Appliances
by Judy Gruen
After 25 years of teamwork, I reluctantly retired one of my most dedicated kitchen workers: my trusty Panasonic Kitchen Wizard. This humble mid-sized appliance helped me to make thousands of meals.
It sliced, it diced, it blended. It shredded coleslaws, whipped up dressings and marinades, and massaged flour, eggs, sugar and oil into cookie dough. You name it, my Kitchen Wizard did the job reliably. It never called in sick. It never complained, not even when the kitchen was nearing 90 degrees in August, or when I filled it with smelly garlic cloves.
My daughter kept asking me why I didn’t upgrade to a fancier, more versatile machine, like a KitchenAid, considering all the cooking I did. But I resisted. I was loyal to my Kitchen Wizard, just as I was loyal to my old Crock Pot, even after one of the handles on the lid cracked, making the job of lifting the lid to serve hot soup a dangerous proposition.
After one too many steam burns, I bought a sleek new Crock Pot, but I missed the battle-weary look of the old one. We had a history, that Crock Pot and me, and I respected its signs of wear — the telltale dark stains where some stew had spilled and burned onto the unit were a tangible reminder of the marvelous soups and stews it had slowly simmered over the years, providing so much gustatory pleasure to my family and friends.
Magazine photos of professional chefs always show them working in kitchens with cookware that looks like it never fried a single egg. The pots and pans look like they were just unwrapped, the instruction booklets still inside. But, like cookbooks tattooed with smudges of oil or cocoa powder, kitchen appliances that gather scratches, stubborn stains or even a little warping from uneven heat send a message: I work here. I count.
I had no choice but to replace my Kitchen Wizard when I realized it just couldn’t cut it anymore — literally. Blending even the most pliant ingredients, such as canned chick peas, taxed it beyond its capacity. My Shabbat guests assumed that I made my hummus unusually chunky on purpose, but I knew my Kitchen Wizard was now a Kitchen Wizened, and it was time to say good bye. To give it full honors, I gently set it out on a chair in the backyard, lying in state, until I brought home a new Cuisinart.
It may seem ridiculous to wax sentimental about a minor kitchen appliance, especially since I have no emotional attachment to many other material possessions. I don’t think twice before tossing away shoes whose soles have worn down, even though the shoes have carried me where I wanted to go. I am happy to give the heave-ho even to big ticket items like a ratty couch, though it too, rendered faithful service as a reliable, comfortable place to read, sip wine, and talk to family and friends.
In a relentlessly consumerist society, I know that I own too many things. Sometimes I buy myself a new shirt or pair of earrings and then forget about them. When I discover them again and realize I had not even missed them, I feel the guilt of falling into the consumerist trap myself. I know: “First World Problems.”
But the tools of my trade in the kitchen? That’s different. I invest a great deal of time cooking for my family and for guests – for Shabbat, holidays, and the occasional Sunday dinner. I often spend most of a Friday shopping and cooking special meals, and they are infused with spiritual intentions. We eat these meals wearing more formal clothing, and even though they require hand washing, I often serve them on my gold-rimmed Wedgewood china.
This is why I wax a bit lyrical over my kitchen appliances. These are the tools and vessels that allow me to transform the raw materials of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, flour, rice, oil, and spices into so much more than the sum of their parts. They fill the kitchen with promising aromas of sautéed onions, chicken soup, roasts, and chocolate cakes. The meals I prepare and present, seasoned with the spirit of Shabbat, wouldn’t have been possible without them. They nourish both body and soul.
And I appreciate them.
September 29, 2020
May 11, 2020