One of my favorite cookbooks, Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, has a charming little essay called The Low Tech Person’s Batterie de Cuisine. But as much as I enjoy reading about Laurie’s minimalist ways, I really cannot share them. (Perhaps it is because Laurie’s kitchens were all in New York City, while mine have largely been in Texas?) Unlike Laurie, I have great admiration for the garlic press – and I wouldn’t dream of giving up my massive food processor for a knuckle-shredding grater. I share Laurie’s fondness for wooden spoons and mixing bowls, but I really do not think they substitute for a mixer; nor do I think that a hand-held mixer substitutes for a standing Kitchen-Aid. (Mind you, a hand-held mixer is useful for making seven-minute frosting over the double-boiler; it’s probably best to have both.) Even minimalists will admit that there are “special interests that must be catered to.” Laurie requires a chicken fryer in her kitchen; I make do without one. However, the space that I have saved by not having a chicken fryer has been more than filled by the many, many specialist baking tins that I require. Mini muffin pans. Extra-large tart cases. Loaf tins of every size. A Madeleine tin. A cake pan in the shape of a present.
My current kitchen, which is the old-fashioned galley style, falls much closer to the “not nearly enough storage space” side of the spectrum. When we last moved, from Houston to England, the packers forgot to pack the shelves under the island – where I kept many items of “occasional” use. I can’t remember the exact contents now, but items like the heart-shaped Belgian waffle machine and the large steel fondue set were housed down there. I wonder if there was some larger intelligence at work, and not just negligence, because we would have never fit all of the stuff in this much smaller kitchen. As it is, I’m using half of the pantry for my baking equipment, every shelf is precariously balanced, and my Le Creuset has to jostle alongside the breakfast cereal. In the past year, and despite space restrictions, I’ve acquired a cast iron skillet, a food mill and a stackable steamer. When my mother gives the girls that special “edge” pan for banana bread something really will have to go. Truly, my shelves are at breaking point; a few of the doors won’t even close completely.
The KitchenAid Mixer. When I went to college, my mother gave me her old KitchenAid --- which had already done at least a decade of hard labor in her kitchen. I used it, continuously, for another decade . . . only passing it on to a friend when my mother bought me a new one. This is my favorite piece of machinery, hands-down. Worth every penny and deserving its space on my (limited) countertop.
Cookie sheets and baking liners. I have made hundreds of cookies and biscuits on these. Tonight, I made homemade pizza on them. When it comes to baking equipment, good quality will really make a difference. Silpat (silicone) liners are one of the great inventions of the 20th century as far as I’m concerned.
Microplane. (another gift from my mother) These are brilliant for zesting lemons and grating parmesan cheese. The very best tool for the job. Since I use those two ingredients to add flavor to all sorts of dishes, I use my Microplane nearly every day.
Wooden spoons/Silicone spatulas. You cannot have too many of these. I keep them in a jar by the stovetop and they get used constantly
Of course, this kind of list begs the question: What kitchen equipment do you value the most?
My husband, who does not cook, requires three pieces of equipment: a microwave, a toaster and an espresso machine. (It is not a coincidence that all of these are machines.) Ironically, if given the chance, I would do away with all of them. If it was up to me, only the electric kettle and my beloved KitchenAid would be taking up space on my countertops. But life in the kitchen, as in life in general, requires compromises.
For instance, I would like to have an island. I would like to have an Aga. I would especially like to have a big red Smeg refrigerator like the one in Julochka’s kitchen. Sadly, I will not be getting any of these things. Instead, I have a tiny refrigerator which is hidden behind a door front. Although I’ve made room for the over-sized spaghetti pot in this small kitchen, I still don’t have a space for my collection of refrigerator magnets!
Can you guess where the dishwasher and refrigerator are hiding?