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!