When it comes to giving priority in dollars, or shelf space, to items in your kitchen, think long and hard about your purchases because they may be a vital ingredient to your social life.
Who would have thought that one chance encounter could bring so much happiness to so many, but that’s what happened in our household recently. It’s a long story really, one that my long-suffering friends have had to put up with hearing me whinge about for the past three years, but up until recently I “hated” my stove. Hate is not a word I use often, nor lightly. My nanna often counselled me that it is a harsh word best avoided; but I digress. My stove was next to useless; it burnt everything I put in it. It burnt roasts, pies, cakes and biscuits — you name it, my stove had ruined it.
Now I must say here that prior to living in this house I was considered by most of my friends as an adequate, if not a good cook. But not since I took possession of the silver beast. This oven seemed to cook everything at about 40 or more degrees above the temperature it was supposed to be set to. I tried turning it down, reducing cooking times, even part cooking in the microwave and popping the dish in the oven to brown but, alas, things still burnt. Either that or they were raw because the gas flame had blown out as I shut the oven door. So, in desperation, I had given up and was limiting my cooking to the stovetop or microwave.
Then a recent wind storm brought our chimney crashing down and the gentleman who came to quote on its repair may as well have ridden up on a white charger because somewhere in the conversation he mentioned that it sounded like my thermostat had gone on the stove. I think that came somewhere in the conversation after he said, “It was a good thing a brick hadn’t fallen down the chimney on the stove”, to which I hastily replied with vengeance that “I wished it had, it might have solved a few problems”.
My knight in shining armour, or should I say the claims assessor, then got out his trusty phone and gave me the name and phone number of a reliable stove repair man. Who became an even more heroic figure when he had my stove repaired and working perfectly within 24 hours, just in time to feed the hoards for Christmas.
Now, as anyone familiar with the Roman saying which, translated, means “he who gives good dinners has plenty of friends” would understand this chain of events has changed my demeanour, my social life and quite possibly saved me from a life of isolation and loneliness. Because I can now cook reliably again I can once more invite people to our home to share a meal, a piece of cake and a cup of tea, a slice of pie in winter or one of hundreds (ok, thousands) of recipes I have lurking in cookbooks.
With the silver beast now slain, I felt a little like Scarlett in Gone with the Wind just before the interval break, wanting to declare to all who would listen that “No one at Tara, I mean Hazelbrook House, would ever go hungry again”.
So it’s no surprise that, for me, a reliable stove in good working order would have to be the number one essential item in a kitchen. At least in a kitchen that wants to greet visitors and say “sit and share a bite to eat”.
It got me to thinking of what other kitchen items we consider essential to the preparation of a shared eating experience. Well, anyone who has stood juggling supplies for a Christmas feast would probably nominate the refrigerator. And a sizeable one at that, for no matter how big our fridge come family gatherings it could always be larger.
My mother, who regularly stretched her household budget by serving cakes or biscuits made from scratch over more expensive store-bought alternatives, would surely have nominated her old Sunbeam Mixmaster.
For my aunt, it would have to be the omelette pan so reverently reserved only for omelettes, which were her mainstay when unexpected guests arrived for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
I began to ask others what they would nominate as their “must have” kitchen item, when it comes to being hospitable towards guests. My sister volunteered the humble kettle, as she instinctively reaches for it to calm the nerves of stressed friends, lovelorn daughter or niece, to warm the baby bottles of new mums and, on occasions when the kids bring home unexpected friends, to add boiling water to stretch a pot of soup, casserole or make up a bowl of instant noodles.
My husband, who is very easygoing and non-demanding when it comes to what’s on the dinner menu, would probably nominate the sandwich toaster as he is a dab hand at toasted sandwiches all around on long photo shoot days.
I pressed the lady down the road for an answer and she declared her huge old soup pot was her “must have”, having fed family, friends and the neighbourhood children lots of meals and snacks over many a Blue Mountains winter.
A friend with a prolific vegie patch suggested his wife’s collection of bowls and colanders were “essential” to his harvesting fruit and veggies, which become the basis of meals for visitors and family alike.
Another friend, who has Chinese ancestry, says she would never part with her wok as she can whip up fried rice for a large group in just minutes. And while I consider it a novelty item, a pasta maker belonging to my mother-in-law’s Italian neighbour seems to be put to regular use to feed family and visitors.
My workmate, a busy mum of three, says the electric can opener is her “secret” weapon when it comes to a quick snack for kids and friends who drop by. And although Martha Stewart would never serve tinned soup, the children have never guessed that the “homemade” soup they love is anything but homemade.
While I consider the oven an essential for a modern-day kitchen, it most certainly was not an essential in renaissance and medieval kitchens. Most cooking was done in a simple covered pot, or on an iron spit, directly over a fire or coals. Essential items are more likely to have included bellows for keeping the fire going and a mortar and pestle for grinding herbs and spices to disguise poor quality or less-than-fresh ingredients. So when it comes to giving priority in dollars, or shelf space, to items in your kitchen, think long and hard about your purchases because they may be as vital an ingredient to your social life as your culinary masterpieces.