The rectangular wrapped box felt heavy in my hands. “Every home needs one of these,” my roommate said as she handed me a wedding gift.
“Thank you,” I tore open the package to find a sturdy cardboard box picturing a food grinder. I lifted the lid and saw the cast iron augur, clamp, wing nuts, wooden handle and screws. I had never used one nor seen my mother or grandmothers use one. “Thank you, I am sure it will be useful,” I said and set the box aside for the next gift.
About once a year I found it useful for grinding cranberries to make cranberry salad. Berries popped as I cranked; the auger grabbed berries, pulling them down into the hole to grind them into small pieces that oozed cranberry juice to the floor. To catch the cranberry dribble, I placed a shallow bowl on the floor under the grinder.
Other hand crank devices joined the cast iron food grinder: a wooden ice cream freezer and an apple peeler. Both were hand operated. Those manual machines took longer to use but they definitely guaranteed exercise with every turn of the handle up and around. But who considers exercise when ads announce new small appliances for the kitchen?
Not me. I drooled over ads for a food processor, “That looks handy. I wish they didn’t cost so much.” It sounded much safer than scraping my thumb on the hand grater when I made slaw.
After a couple years of drooling, I came in the door after a Saturday of yard sale shopping, absolutely thrilled, “Look what I found today!” I pulled out an assortment of blades, bowl, and motor for my food processor.
At Thanksgiving time I reached for the noisy electric food processor and mused, “I wonder how it will work with the cranberries?” I snapped the bowl into place, poured tiny, red globes into the funnel and flicked the switch. Wonder of wonders! The dribble of cranberry juice stayed inside the container.
The food processor, with much fanfare and noise, replaced the squeak of the turning cast iron augur and faint pop of berries. I only had to press a button, add fruit and scrape out chopped berries and juice.
The food grinder moved to the back of the cupboard as did the hand operated ice cream freezer since store-bought frozen confections took less time and money. For years on Mondays I pulled out the mixer along with flour, yeast and other ingredients to make a week’s worth of bread. I expertly kneaded dough, shaped loaves and relished that first bite of bread hot from the oven.
Then I discovered the bread store: so much faster and easier! Still, I missed the taste and smell of freshly made bread, which explains my interest in bread makers. No kneading, no mess. “Just add the ingredients, close the lid and a couple hours later enjoy fresh bread.”
I bought a bread maker. The rich smell of baked bread filled the house until I lost interest and sold it. Then one day I wanted homemade bread, I reached for a metal bucket with a hand crank that turns the dough with a hook. I had come full circle.
That batch of homemade bread reminded me of the food grinder in the back of the cupboard. I considered using it to make chicken salad. I pulled out the cast iron grinder and studied it for a minute. “This should mince and mix the chicken, onion and celery.” I clamped my 50 year-old grinder to the table and began dropping bits of meat and vegetables in the cup. It took a bit of muscle power to make a great salad with minimal noise and no nicked fingers. My roommate was right, every home does need one.
Joan Hershberger is a former staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and other columns from the El Dorado News-Times.”