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
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCHN, CNW, CGP
Before the advent of fast snack foods and giant box candies, we had a simple and dare I say, even beneficial snack food – popcorn. This week I read a report on Pepsi-Co launching two new fast service websites for home delivery of their Frito and Pepsi family of products directly to consumers.
This has me confused because everywhere I have been during the COVID-19 closures, the one group of foods the most accessible are junk foods. It is harder to find popcorn, then candy, pop, chips, and cookies. These calory dense snack foods are very much a product of the current modern age. Before the 1970s, snack foods were a treat used on occasion. Today these everpresent junk foods are being used as daily meal replacements for thousands of children in low-income households. Popcorn, by comparison, is a paragon of health virtue.
A Little History
Biblical accounts of “corn” stored in the pyramids of Egypt are a reference to other grains such as barley. The word “corn” was commonly used to refer to various grains in Europe, such as wheat, barley, and rye. In Scotland and Ireland, the term “corn” referred to oats. Maize was the ordinary American corn.
It is believed that the first use of wild and early cultivated corn was popping. Archeologists have found traces of popcorn in 1,000year-old Peruvian tombs. The oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in the Bat Cave of west-central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950.
Popcorn was very popular from the 1890s until the Great Depression. Street vendors used to follow crowds around, pushing steam or gas-powered poppers through fairs, parks, and expositions. According to the Popcorn Board website, “Charles Cretors, founder of C. Cretors and Company in Chicago, introduced the world’s first mobile popcorn machine at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
Scientific American reported: ‘This machine … was designed with the idea of moving it about to any location where the operator would be likely to do a good business. The apparatus, which is light and
durable, and weighing but 400 or 500 pounds, can be drawn readily by a boy or by a small pony to any picnic ground, fair, political rally, etc. and to many other places where a good business could be done for a day or two.
Popcorn at 5 or 10 cents a bag was one of the few luxuries down-and-out families could afford. During the Great Depression, the popcorn business thrived while other companies failed. A slump did happen during the early 1950s, with the arrival of TV. Attendance at movie theaters dropped and, with it, popcorn consumption. A new relationship between TV and popcorn was formed.
Many of us have fond memories of making Jiffy Pop™. Just this last week, while camping at my husbands’ remote job site, I went looking for JiffyPop. When I found it, it was interesting to read the ingredients list – it was a surprisingly simple list and free of many of the typical industrial additives that are detrimental to our health—developed in 1958 in LaPorte, Indiana. JiffyPop™ made it big when, in the 1970s, the stage magician Harry Blackstone, Jr. promoted the product jingle.
According to the non-GMO shopping guide, there is no GMO popcorn, so while hundreds of cone products are GMO and gene-edited, old fashioned popcorn is still the same as when you were a kid.
Our family likes to sit in the yard on a summer night, hang a sheet on the shop wall, and use the projector to screen movies while we enjoy our organic buttered popcorn. Just like the ol’ fashioned drive-in, but better. make as it is to eat.”
Here is to real food that we can have fun with.
by Tammera J. Karr
The 21st century has presented us with more than one challenger to our health. How can it be that what is seemingly innocent or benign factors could be the cause of so many health problems? Modern innovation has provided us with countless tools and conveniences that make our jobs and lives easier. The unintended consequences of innovation can be more plastic trash, fractured time, and industrial denatured foods. How do we take out the trash both figuratively and physically without driving ourselves and others, around the bend? I look back at what was the normal before …. Which often was simple, affordable solutions to everyday needs.
Our most proactive and sustainable changes for our health involve adding more vegetables and removing 300 calories a day.
Here is one example: I have a client who is a truck driver. He tries to eat as best he can on the road five days a week, but there is not much selection in truck stops. He tries to make some food he can take with him, but he only has a tiny refrigerator and no real way to cook on the road.
Solutions: Incorporate a shake once a day with freeze-dried fruit and vegetable powders. 12-volt blenders make smoothie mixes palatable, or blended coffees. The freeze-dried blends add in greater nutrient variety; they also can be used as a touch of seasoning flavor, provided they do not contain protein powders or other flavorings like strawberry and chocolate.
He plans 2 hours on a day off to make up small airtight containers with raw vegetables, nuts, and fruit. It is much easier to eat a handful of sugar snap peas, kohlrabi, turnip, broccoli stems or yam slices than to stop and peal or try and eat whole. I recommend the glass Snapware brand because they seal tight and, they do not leak. Our experience has been the glass containers fit easily in a small soft-sided cooler and work in a HotLogic. Experience has shown us foods hold up in these containers in the fridge or cooler for 3-4 days.
Hard-boiled eggs in the shell, canned chicken, pork, beef or fish like sardines and salmon are easy proteins. The eggs are good in a small refrigerator or cooler with plenty of ice for three-four days. The low sodium canned meats do not require refrigeration and can be used with convenience store salads, rye crackers, or a loaf of hearty bread: pre-cook brown rice or red potatoes add more variety.
Next my client purchased a small HotLogic portable food warmer. Before heading down the road, he uses the prepped vegetables in their glass dish, a small sliced potato, one can of meat, with liquid, and plugs into the 12-volt outlet on his dash. In 2-3 hours, he has a meal hot and ready to eat when he fuels up or parks.
For this individual spending, a little time prepping for the coming week and investing in a couple of small appliances meant he dropped 400 calories a day without having to think about it or go hungry. He increased his vegetable consumption and found he passed up chips and snacks because he wasn’t craving them or fighting sleep. On his weekends, he enjoys eating with his family or friends’ guilt-free.
The increase in vegetables in his daily routine does more than act as fuel; they provide valuable fiber for removing harmful chemicals. They feed our brain for cognition, support healthy blood sugar, build the microbiome supporting our immune systems, remove excess cholesterol, and sodium while providing potassium and magnesium for heart health.
All we have to do is think back to times before, prepackaged processed foods, and fried convenience foods from gas stations. While those foods are easy, they are also at the heart of America’s growing health problems. Do you remember – Lunches of fried chicken, cold steak and potatoes, meatloaf, bread and butter, apples, carrots, tomatoes, biscuits and meat pies, and Stanly lunch boxes?
Returning to Real Foods for health.
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