A Different Kind Of Hand Tool…
In the mid 1800’s, this potato ricer was brought out to a budding ranch in Wyoming. For well over 70 years, it remained there in a log cabin, doing the one thing it did best – extruding cooked potato through little holes barely larger than a grain of rice. Life as a rancher in Wyoming wasn’t easy. It involved hard work, from sun up to sun down, day in and day out. But the ranch owners survived and prospered. At some point in the early 1900’s, the ricer was passed down to the ranch owner’s granddaughter. Battling through her own great trials and tribulations, she and her husband eventually settled into a comfortable life in the Midwest, just east of Kansas.
In the early 1960’s, a young man and his new wife moved to Kansas City so he could attend medical school. They had plans on what they wanted to do with their life; not big plans, but plans none-the-less. After he received his medical degree, they wanted to move back to his home town of Washington, MO, open a family medicine practice, and work a farm. Only, they had no idea how to operate a farm, so they started looking for someone to teach them while he was in school.
Through a series of fateful events, they found themselves in touch with a middle-aged couple from Wyoming, who lived just north or Kansas City in the small town of Platte City, MO. The older couple took the younger one under their wings, teaching them the basics of running a farm, like operating a tractor and butchering a steer. Some lessons, like just how much gravel a pickup truck can handle, were learned the hard way. They would reap the benefits of many of these lessons for more than 50 years.
Several years later, medical school finished and a degree in hand, a farm just outside the new doctor’s hometown was found and purchased. Packing up to move back and begin the next phase of their life, they were presented with a few gifts, one of which was an old potato ricer. After several more years of use, convenience became the necessity of a busy household and the ricer, once often-used and well-loved, was relegated to a box in the top shelf of the pantry. After all, it takes a lot to keep three young boys working on a farm from dying of starvation.
There it sat for more than 20 years.
Last weekend, one of these no-longer-young boys brought his own son down to the farm for a visit with the (now) grandparents. After a time, Thanksgiving plans were discussed. The son agreed to bring mashed potatoes and a pumpkin pie, but lamented the abuse his cheap pressed-aluminum potato ricer would take at extruding over 10 pounds of potatoes.
“Why don’t you just use a mixer?”
“Because I like to use hand tools, mom. Even when I cook.”
The mother thought for a minute before heading into the pantry to dig through an old box of kitchen utensils.
“Then take this,” she said, pulling an old potato ricer out of the box. “Mom Perry would be pleased to see it back in use.”
And so this American-made potato ricer with a cast-iron handle and tin basket traveled another 50 miles that day. With some minor scrutiny, you can make out a hard-to-see impression on the top handle that reads, “Cin’ty Galv Co.” The underside of the bottom handle reads, “King, Seamless Cup-Press”. Traces of a dark green paint remain on the handle and in little nooks and crevices.
Though it looks simple in design, it does have some robust features that set it apart from anything you can buy today. The handles are substantial and smoothed so that they don’t pinch your palm or thumb. The press plate is cast iron, as well, and won’t crumple under the intense pressures one can achieve squishing cooked potato. The cup seems to rest on a rim, but will not fall out of the ricer unless two tabs are lined up with the handle properly. After sitting unused for 20 years, it just needed a quick scrubbing with soap and water and it was ready to be put back to use.
As I stood at the kitchen counter later that evening, wiping down the cast iron with a light coating of butcher block oil, I could feel the life returning back into this 150+ year old device. It almost pulsed with energy as memories flooded my brain. I thought back to the many visits made during the summers of my youth to an elderly couple I’d only ever known as Mom and Tom Perry. I recalled chipping crinoids out of a rock formation with my mom – my first taste of “being an archaeologist” and the only place in Missouri I’ve ever found such fossils. I remembered being awed at the sight of thousands of tobacco plants hanging to dry in a two-story barn (and getting chewed out for sneaking into the tobacco barn). And my mouth watered at the thought of good home-cooked food, just like my mom makes.
(I didn’t know until much later that it tasted like my mom’s cooking because Mom Perry is the one who taught my mom so much about cooking.)
With a feeling of contentment, I put the ricer away and smiled.
I have a feeling the mashed potatoes are going to be good this year…