By Tammera J Karr PhD
What are your must-have gizmos, gadget, tool, or appliance in your home or RV kitchen?
This question had come before me frequently of late and got me thinking about all the tools we have available today, designed for one form or another of food preparation. It is quite overwhelming when you do a small search on Amazon, Overstock, or Wayfair for Kitchen tools and appliances. As a food historian, I have seen kitchen tools from colonial days to the present, some have lasted over the centuries, and others came and went. The one tool every kitchen has at least one of is a knife. History and archaeology can show us blades of every shape and material dating from man’s earliest forays into tool making.
When reading about pioneers coming west and what individuals started with, then left along the trail; the list is long from furniture to wood cook stoves, books to rugs, copper pots, and pans to bone china. But the knife always seemed to make the list of must-haves. When families packed up their belongings and moved during the dust bowl, the kitchen knife was secured in the load once again. So what about today – does the humble knife still have relevance with food processors, electric carving blades, mincers, blenders, and more?
Ohh, Ya, our fascination with knives is still very real. Each time I open one of my social media pages, an ad for Damascus steel kitchen knives with wood, ceramic, bone, and composite handles of every size and color greets me. I feel like a magpie drawn to shiny – wanting this one and that.
Unlike the pioneers or my grandmother, I have to consider the requirements of another kitchen appliance that rules supreme – the dishwasher. My grandmother never had to weigh the acquisition of her mixing bowls, hand tools, dishes, and knives against Dishwasher Safe. Ok, many folks don’t have dishwashers, but what about microwave ovens?
The microwave oven made it big in the mid-1980s when the once expensive countertop high-tech oven became affordable to the masses in North America. A whole new approach to cooking took the states by storm. Candy, bacon, rice, and potatoes in minutes, and soon freezers were filled with not the functional aluminum oven TV dinner but the snazzy plastic dish quick meal. I admit that this is one electric appliance short-lived in my kitchen and RV. After three years of not even using the microwave’s timer function in our RV, we removed it and turned the space into convenient storage for those kitchen tools used almost daily. I enjoy cooking and find it as fast as ready-made meals. The motions involved with preparing a meal are timeless and allow one to slow down and take stock in the day’s events while flavoring the food with intention and care. On the practical side, I’ll admit at home and in the RV counter space to use those nifty knives on will always win out over another electrical gadget.
Did you grow up with Pyrex? Pretty much every wedding from the 1940s to the present has had at least one set of Pyrex mixing bowls if festive or retro colors. Countless batches of popcorn, salads, mashed potatoes, and pasta have been offered up to family members in Pyrex over the decades, and they were the first freezer to oven to tableware of the modern age. There are downsides to grandmothers stoneware and Pyrex. The heavy metal content and exposure from ceramics pre-2015 are serious considerations, especially if children eat from these dishes. But will this champion of the kitchen be replaced with Silicone? Maybe, but there is a lot we don’t know about silicone cookware – remember how Teflon took over the kitchen in the 1970s and 80s? Today we know there are health dangers from cooking and using Teflon, so much so that the US government banned its use. Ok, they may have excluded it more for the threat to the ozone than your health, but we will take this win any way we can get it.
There are still more appliances filling the cupboards; electric frying pans, instant pots, hand benders, ice cream makers, popcorn poppers, and more. When it comes down to it, just how many of these appliances do we really need, or even use more than once a year? If we were loading a wagon to head west today, how many of these would be left behind? There is something to be said for simplicity. When we use the knife, rolling pin (reminiscent of the mortar and pestle), and spoon, we are using tools that have passed the test of time. The physical motions we do of slicing, chopping, ladling, pouring, rolling, and pressing are little changed from that of the pioneers or ancient peoples who first settled our world. When explorers of old went forth, simplicity ruled due to practical needs. Today millions of people in other parts of the world still use rudimentary kitchen tools to prepare their daily meals; these tools may have been passed down through generations or fabricated from available materials. Why they are still in demand comes down to serviceable, dependable, and portable.
Consider the appliance invasion that may have been going on in your kitchen. Before buying the newest gizmo, pause and ponder how much space it takes up, and if its value is real or just because everyone else has one. Keep those tools that increase the enjoyment of cooking, that connect you to family and friends – the rest pass them by in favor of less stuff to weigh you down.
To read more on the modernization of the kitchen by Tammera Karr
While doing research over the Christmas Holiday, I came across some disconcerting information on lead. My investigation was prompted by a love of vintage kitchen stuff and a question from a client on safe dinnerware for her RV. Many folks have opinions on what are the best dishes and glassware for RVs and homes. Often times this is based not on food and use safety but on travel breakage and convenience.
Plastic and disposable paper plates are loaded with chemicals that increase type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. These chemicals are called xeno-estrogens, and they displace our endogenously produced hormones on cell receptor sites. But surely that isn’t the issue with our tried and true Corelle dishware? In truth, it isn’t just Corelle that has problems, for the sake of this article, I will limit our conversation to this manufacture.
According to the Corning has confirmed lead and cadmium in their dishware before 2005. In a statement to a customer question on safety and use of their vintage Corelle dinnerware circa 2000 (note: vintage is older than 20 years). A Corelle customer service representative replied with: “Prior to the 1990s, virtually all glass and ceramic ware made anywhere in the world contained Lead”. As of 2018, Corelle is now a market leader in creating lead-free dishware. That is great as long as you buy only the plain white dinnerware. Even though their new products do tend to be completely Lead-free, these products have been testing positive for Cadmium (in specific colors) – at levels that I would also consider potentially concerning, given Cadmium is a known carcinogen.
When we are looking at lead level safety, consider the following: 90 ppm is unsafe for children.
Vintage dishes to replace due to lead and cadmium on the eating surface.
Vintage Corelle with basket and flowers: 2,406 ppm lead, Vintage Cream: 28,500 ppm lead, 150 ppm cadmium, Pink Roses and Black Trim (c. 1990s) 3,536 ppm lead, + cadmium, Vintage Blue and Yellow Floral with Butterflies: 41,500 ppm lead, + cadmium, Spice and Leaf pattern: 42,900 ppm, cadmium 557 ppm, Maroon Flowers with Heart Petals: 20,300 ppm lead, + cadmium, Blue Snowflake Pattern: 7823 ppm lead, 69 ppm cadmium, Old Town Blue pattern c. 1972-1982: 18,200 ppm lead.
Franciscan Desert Rose China made in England: 47,800 ppm, Desert Rose earthware china c. 1941 Made in USA 122,200 ppm, Franciscan Ivy: 304,000 ppm lead
Johnson Bros. Willow pattern china post-1912: 43,100 ppm lead in glaze. Mill Stream ceramic ironstone plate: 54,700 ppm lead
Vintage Horizon Blue pattern Pyrex c. 1969-1972: 72,000 ppm lead, Orange Fiesta pattern c. 1971: 55,000 ppm lead, Glass Measuring cup c. 1994 Red lettering on the outside: 6,253 ppm lead. Now this one kills me as we have several in use daily in our home. Red Vintage Pyrex Food Storage Container with glass lid: 310,000 ppm lead, 14,200 ppm arsenic, 33,200 ppm cadmium. It is noteworthy that the lead is in the outer colored surface of these containers. Clear Glass Pyrex: lead-free
Vintage Brown Tupperware: Negative for lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic, Yellow Tupperware: 2677 ppm cadmium, 15 ppm mercury, Green Tupperware: 2,780 ppm lead, 234 ppm arsenic.
Vintage Crown Corning made in Japan c. 1990s: 46 ppm of lead
Ok, now we are all ready to toss our dishes and start eating out of bread trenchers once more. How have so many generations passed without toxic levels of lead? They haven’t is part of the answer. Childhood mortality was enormous before the 1960s, so we have no way of knowing how many of the newborn to three-year-old children prior to the 1960s died because of heavy metal toxicity. The next part of the answer lies in vegetable consumption: especially garlic, cilantro, and flat-leaf parsley, blueberries, lemon water sea vegetables like dulse, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, greens of all kinds and green tea, tomatoes and naturally fermented foods. All of these foods were eaten at much higher levels in 1900, then they are by modern industrial food consumers today.
Replace old dinnerware with certified lead and cadmium free dinnerware. There are quite a few American made dishes now available. HF Coors dinnerware, established in 1925, is a disabled-veteran-owned company and certified lead-free.
Eating our vegetables and fermented foods is vital to our health in every aspect. Second, clean house, save those vintage pieces that are important to your family, but reconsider their daily use, especially when children are eating.
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