Gadgets Old and New

Grandma Madsen’s soup ladle bit it this holiday season. Grandma Madsen was my paternal great grandmother, my Grandma Busk’s mother. I never met her. She was gone long before I was born. What I know of her are things my mother, Evie, told me—that she was six feet tall; that she walked to the outhouse barefoot summer and winter. My mother is also the one who long ago gifted the soup ladle—white with black trim, with a weld holding the handle to the scoop—to me, telling me at the time that it had once belonged to Grandma Madsen.

I’ve had it ever since. On the reservation, it was used to dish out “Papago chili” long before the Desert People reverted to their original name of Tohono O’odham. I’ve used it to dole out pumpkin for making the filling for countless pumpkin pies over the years, and it’s dished up plenty of helpings of beef stew, chicken curry, and Senate Bean Soup. But over the holidays, the ladle came to grief. The 140 year-old weld that held it together from the late 1880’s gave way. It didn’t break altogether; it just went flat. We bent it back into its original shape, returned it to the utensil drawer, and then Bill ordered a new one made of shiny stainless steel with no weld needed.

But the other day, as I was making breakfast, I caught sight of it lying there, and it got me to thinking. I’m a sucker when it comes to kitchen gadgets. I’m one of those people who tried the “as seen on TV” magic egg peeler. Trust me, it wasn’t magic and it didn’t work. I also tried the first “magic egg cooker”—the one that lets you boil eggs but they come out with flat bottoms. Sorry, in my opinion, hard boiled eggs shouldn’t be flat on one side. They should be … well …egg shaped!

So when someone gave me a stand-alone egg cooker, I figured I was in for another failure. Much to my surprise, this one turns out the real deal. I put in the right amount of water, measured in the cup provided, add the eggs, and plug it in. Fifteen minutes later when the light goes off—that usually amounts to 1500 indoor steps—I have four perfectly hard boiled eggs, waiting to be dropped in cold water and peeled. And it turns out, steamed eggs as opposed to boiled eggs really do peel perfectly.

But having the egg cooker and the soup ladle in such close proximity to one another made me marvel at all the things in my kitchen that would have astonished Grandma Madsen and my mother, Evie, too, for that matter. The microwave; the four-piece toaster with a bagel setting; the instant hot water. We have a DeLonghi coffee machine that starts by grinding beans and then, a minute or so later (184 steps) delivers a freshly made cup of perfect coffee. The whole time I was growing up, my mother boiled her Folgers coffee grounds in a WearEver aluminum coffee pot on the electric stove top. Speaking of electricity, I’m pretty sure that pot was originally heated on a wood-burning stove. My mother won an EasySpin Dryer washing machine in a county fair raffle in South Dakota but wasn’t able to use it until we moved into the house in Bisbee a year or so later because the farm house wasn’t wired for electricity.

My mother cooked many a meal in her pressure cooker, with peeled potatoes in the main part of the pot and with a side of vegetables—peas and carrots or HORRORS! even parsnips—in the kidney shaped container that fit inside. I still have a pressure cooker somewhere in this house, but it’s destined for Goodwill now that we have an Insta-Pot. Evie used to use a food grinder that she attached to a chair to grind up beef roast to make hash or sandwich spread. (She couldn’t attach it to the metal counters that went with our white kitchen cabinets.) I had a food grinder, too, for a while. Now we have food processor.

Maybe a love of kitchen gadgetry is hidden away on my DNA thanks to Grandma Madsen. I suspect that the soup ladle was one of her treasured utensils. It amazes me to think that it has survived all these decades and has continued to be useful in the company of all the later advances in cooking wizardry.

Did we toss it? Nope, I couldn’t bring myself to throw away that bit of family history. It’s still hanging in there although now I doubt we’ll use it for anything more heavy duty than a batch of light-weight noodle soup.

As for the new one? I wonder if sometime a hundred years or so from now, someone will still be using Grandma Judy’s soup ladle to serve up a pot of soup—if they still have soup pots then or if anybody is still making soup.

Happy New Year!

35 thoughts on “Gadgets Old and New

  1. Happy New Year. And thanks for evoking so many wonderful memories. I still treasure the relics of the past that I’ve carried around: cheese grater, meat grinder, pressure cooker (that scared the life out of me), and the blue flowered cup and sepia photographs of the past. Carrying the memories and passing along our own treasures, is so very much a part of sharing our family narrative with one another through time.

  2. Judy, take it to an auto body shop and have them put a spot weld on it. I’d suggest coming to my place of work, but the commute to Des Moines, Iowa, would be a little excessive!
    I have 2.5 kitchen drawers full of utensils that are rarely if ever used! But I love going into kitchen stores!

  3. Loved the stories of your great-grandmother. I did not have a great-grandmother who left anything that I know about, but I had a maternal grandmother that I loved with all my heart. As a child I would watch her churn and then mold the butter from the churn and pour it into a pitcher. I have that pitcher and remember her so fondly. Thanks for the memories and Happy New Year!

  4. Speaking of old kitchen utensils . . . .
    When I moved to my senior residence, friends helped me upack and put-away. One friend held up an item and asked, “What is this?”
    It happened to be a potato masher.

    As an aside, I was thinking of you this morning before I saw your post. I want to thank you for hours and hours of pleasurable reading. I have enjoyed every book of yours I have read. I may not remember the name of the book, but I remember the story and the characters. That way, when I pick up a book by you, I can read it over again, and enjoy it all over again.

    I am the kind of person who doesn’t just read books, I become immersed in them. Your stories are immersion stories. You have a great gift.

    Thank you and happy new year!

  5. Wonderful blog. It brought back fond family memories of the magic that happened in the family kitchen. I have my great grandmothers glad toothpick holder that turned purple with age. Thanks.

  6. I still use my mom’s 1950’s pressure cooker to can home made apple sauce and jams. The only problem is finding a gasket for the top. The old hardware store, in downtown Bainbridge Island used to have all the old parts, but they closed years ago.

  7. Thank you for the lovely story built around your treasured ladle. I have a couple of kitchen things that go back to my mother, and your story made me value them more.

  8. Oh, Judy, this blog brought big smiles to me as it reminds me so much of my sister, Judy Perkins, who lives in El Paso, Texas. She is the “Kitchen Gadget Queen”! If it’s advertised on TV, she has it. She is not this way about anything else. Just kitchen gadgets. Here’s the kicker…..she has rarely used any of those gadgets! Always has good intentions, but never quite gets around to using them. Every time Frank & I see an ad on TV for a kitchen gadget, we laugh hilariously and say, “Judy has that”! I need to call my sister this morning to say , Happy New Year, and to thank her for bringing so many laughs to me & Frank. Happy New Year to you & Bill, too. Your books and this blog have brought many hours of pleasure for many years. I expect this year to do the very same!

  9. Love that story about your great-grandma’s ladle. DEFINITELY take it to someone to re-weld it!

    Like you, I have a few treasured antiques that have been handed down – Like my grandma’s cast-iron skillet. When she couldn’t lift it any more, she gave it to my mother, who passed it to me once she couldn’t lift it anymore (although Mom tended to keep it in the RV, and only used it when they went camping) I use that thing every day!

    Love all of your books. I discovered them in the Stars and Stripes bookstore back in the early 80’s, (it was the first Sheriff Joanna Brady book) when we were stationed in Germany. I’ve been a fan ever since! Now we’re living in Cochise County, and I did substitute teaching at the schools there in Bisbee…Greenway Elementary, Lowell Middle School, and the High School (although that was at the “new” building, not at the original school in town, where each of the four stories has a ground-level exit!

    • I only did one semester in the OLD Bisbee High School. After Christmas vacation that year, we moved to the NEW one–some sixty years ago. But for people in Bisbee, is still the “new” high school

      • Weren’t you the first class to graduate from the new high school? I believe mine was the first to do all 4 years there. You were a senior, with my cousin Judy Adams, when I was a freshman.

  10. Happy New Year. This blog was a joy to read. I come from a line of women that use certain kitchen tools for years. My own mother loved to try new and improved kitchen gadgets. She would buy, try and fuss if the new and improved wasn’t easy to use. She always tried again though. I tend to hold on to the old, tried and true things I have used for years. Thanks for brightening my/our Friday mornings.

  11. Loved hearing about your kitchen gadgets. I too have some gadgets that belonged to my Grandmother and my Mother. My pressure cooker, cast iron skillets and pots, and the double boiler pot that made hundreds of batches of chewies that were sent all over the world to all four of my uncles who served overseas in the military, to their families and all 4 of my aunts and their families. It was tradition that all members of the family, wherever they were, would receive a box of chewies for Christmas morning and everyone would have them with coffee, hot chocolate or milk on Christmas morning. That way we were all sharing Christmas morning together. My Granddaddy made knives and carved the handles and I have several of those that I cherish. He also kept them sharp for everyone. They are so much better than store bought!
    Have a great New Year!!!

  12. I have been invited to various parties demonstrating kitchen gadgets and storage containers, etc. Some of the items worked great for the demonstrator, but not so well for me. So after a couple of attempts to use the item, they end up in a cupboard or drawer that isn’t open often, so they are basically forgotten and I am back to doing whatever the way I was used to doing it before. Rice cooker for the microwave, mandolin with six different cutting styles, fancy knife carving set that is still in the box, etc.
    And now, after Christmas gifts have been opened, I had to rework a cupboard to make room for a new skillet. Gifts from the kids, so I look at it lovingly, and think about using it, but I have my favorite that I know how it cooks, and doesn’t take special care for the non-stick surface that has to be hand washed.
    I know those unused items need to be donated to a trash & treasure or a charity store. That is one of the new year’s resolutions is to declutter but there are those items that I will not part with like your spoon that brings back all kinds of memories. I don’t need the latest and greatest. It all ends up tasting about the same.
    Best wishes for a great new year.

  13. A dear friend gifted me her grandmother’s wooden hand carved salad servers. That would make then almost as old as your wonderful soup ladle. I oiled them to bring back some of their color faded by decades of use and hung then on the wall in my kitchen. I think her every day I see them.

  14. Happy New Year. I too am a gadget junkie and this year because I was stuck at home in snowy Alberta instead of at our Arizona winter home, I resurrected my mother’s old MIRRO cookie press. It is probably 75 years old but my grandchildren loved the cookies it made for them. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Hoping you are in Tucson, not Seattle.
    Stay safe and well.

  15. I have to admit that my mother was much the same. If it came on TV mom would half to try it. Mom was a wonderful cook and always tried to use what she bought, however my maternal gram was the worst cook in the world. she could make noodles and Squacakes (scones or fried bread dough to most people). she always made her own bread. thats where the sqawcakes came in. She did this every Wednesday and my cousin and I always showed up to use up a few of her loafs. I can still smell them. that is about all of her cooking skills, except she always new how to fry fish so the bones would come out. I love old thing in the kitchen and use them from my family as well as my wifes. Also we do have a magic pot and eggs and potatoes are no problem. dont want to use up too much space and I hope you can excuse my spelling. Have a happy and prosperus NEW YEAR.

  16. I love this. My grandmother had a wooden counter, and my grandfather cut a small chunk out of the top so it was thin enough to attach the meat grinder. I always was fascinated with that little square notch on the counter. Yes, I still have the meat grinder, but no notch on the counter.

  17. I do not have anything that belonged to my grandmothers. Our family on both sides are Germans from Russia. Both families migrated from Russia sometime between 1900 – 1903. I don’t have anything that belonged to either of my grandmothers, but I do have my Mother’s wooden spoon. My Mother was born in 1907 in Saskatchewan, Canada. When she was seven her father homesteaded property in North Dakota. Her Mother was unable to make the trip at the time, so my Mom and two of her older brother went with their father to No. Dak. My Mom did all the cooking for them until her Mother was abler to come to the Farm they were living in. My Mom married in 1926 to my father and had eight children. In all the years they were married my Mom, cooked , took care of the family, as did most of the women of that time. She cooked, cleaned, etc. One thing My Mom did to the day she passed away washer own canning and bread baking. She made lots of meals out of dough. Her one kitchen tool she always used was her wooden spoon, though there are many other tings I could also mention. She used that spoon to stir home cooked jams and jellies, preserves, mixed thousands of cookies and other things, such as soups. I covet that spoon ( it has a small crack in it now) so I hide it from my family. However once in a while my husband borrows it to stir hummingbird sugar water. I clean it carefully and put it away again. I think of my Mom every time I see it in my utinsel drawer!

  18. Ahh, memories!! No ladles in our family, but did have the heavy meat grinder that did attach to my mother’s bread board. She ground meat for Cornish pasties for many a year. After she passed, my dad kept it, but it was under his bed in case there was an intruder!!! I have inherited the grinder and used it for years to make the family’s traditional Cornish Pasties. This relic been relegated to the pantry (like yours was) and I now use the meat grinder on my Kitchen Aid mixer. However it will always have a place in my home–maybe even to bean an intruder, LOL.

  19. How much fun and character using family handmedowns add to meals, especially holiday meals. I have some different plates, serving utensils which were my great-grandmothers(plural). I’m showing them to my grandchildren and explaining the family tree link as we use them. They are fascinated by this tangible history. Thanks for sharing your soup ladle story.

  20. I so enjoy your blogs… when I read them I feel like I’m reading a letter from a dear friend. Thank you and please keep them comming!???

  21. One Christmas my husbands grandfather gifted me with his “soap saver”. He even painted it silver . If people don’t know what it is, it’s a little wire cage on a handle that you put scraps of hand soap in. Then you whisk it around in water and it makes it sudsy to wash dishes, undies, whatever in it. It proudly hangs in my laundry room. He was so precious to us and we miss him so much!

    Always enjoy your posts! Thank you so much!

  22. My brother-in-law out on their farm welds. He has taken my wheelbarrow rusted out and redone a shell and intricate things as well. Let me know. We had a mangle on the back porch next to the washtub and wash board in the 50’s. We love, we use and are happy with whatever we had over the years. We have one of those hand orange squeezer and really went to town with oranges from the tree.

  23. I grew up in an old farmhouse that did not have kitchen counters until we remodeled in the 50s. My Grandma and Mom used a large bread board on the kitchen table for any baking that had to be kneaded or rolled out. The meat grinder could be attached to the table. Mom loved using a pressure cooker, but I was worried that it was going to blow up and never touched one. I use a cast iron skillet as think it is the best material for frying.

    I think our ancestors worked hard in the kitchen, but most enjoyed pleasing their families.

  24. Just want to say how much I appreciate your writings. Your books are so engaging I find them hard to put down once I begin! My favorite is J.P., probably because I lived and worked in Seattle for years. I sometimes miss your blog but recently I saw a message that a purchase of Credible Threat was a one-day Kindle deal so I quickly downloaded and read it. I recently shared your Christmas blog on my Facebook page and I was thrilled to see a comment from my longtime friend from high school that she too has read all your books!
    You are truly my favorite author and I look forward to what comes next. Happy new year day 2!

  25. Thank you for all the memories of your past Great Grand Mothers It sure brought back some of my own Memories of my past Grandparents as well.
    Marty

  26. In 1940 my parents moved from a small farming community to near Milwaukee, Wisconsin because of defense jobs. Having left her wood burning kitchen range behind, Mother needed something to make lefse on. She discovered that she could turn a BIG cast iron skillet upside down on the stove as a griddle. She didn’t have a lefse stick, so she took the stick out of the bottom of the shade in the kitchen to use. Lo and behold, someone had already sharpened one end!
    I keep my eyes peeled for an old potato ricer as the new ones are made of flimsy metal and bend if you put too much pressure on them.

    • Loren, it’s funny, but I was just looking for my potato ricer. I know I took it out of a top drawer awhile ago, but can’t find it in any cupboard. I used to use it quite often. Mom had one that she used to “rice” hard-boiled eggs to garnish her favorite creamed eggs on toast. She learned how to make cream sauce when she was in 4-H and loved making it. I didn’t really care for “Eggs Goldenrod” or creamed asparagus either.

      You might check estate sales where folks are cleaning out a house. Sometimes you find a box of kitchen things.

  27. Oh, happy day! I found the potato ricer tucked behind the cast iron Dutch oven on a bottom shelf. A neighbor gave me this Dutch oven when she was moving to a senior citizen apartment. It’s cooked many a soups, but is almost too heavy to lift now.

    The handles on the ricer have a few rust spots, but so do I. Don’t have any potatoes today to try it out on.

    I’m on a cleaning binge today. It happens to me once a year.

  28. Hang it on the wall or put it out in the kitchen where you can see it and tell others it’s stories. A wonderful piece!

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