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A Different Kind Of Hand Tool…

November 15, 2011

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.

Ye Olde Potatoe Ricere

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.

Shameless Finley Plug

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…

12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2011 7:49 pm

    good post, I like the ricere and the story


  2. November 16, 2011 9:41 am

    I’ll take that fine complement from one who writes so well! 🙂 Cheers!


  3. November 16, 2011 12:09 pm

    Modified the post to correct the company’s name found on the top. Looks like it reads, “Cin’ti Galv Co”. That’s the Cincinnati Galvanizing Company, I’m sure…

    And then a big fat LOL as I further research the Cincinnati Galvanizing Company and find out the factory was completed in 1923!

    As is true with so many of the stories you hear on Antiques Road Show (“Well, the story passed down through the family is that this desk belonged to Abraham Lincoln…”), it looks like there are some “slight discrepancies” with the one I was given. (“Actually, it’s called a Lincoln desk, but chances are good this one was probably never owned by President Lincoln himself…”)

    Well, we won’t tell my mum, will we? It surely isn’t worth the trouble at this point.

    I’m sure the ricer did come from Mom Perry, but she probably bought it new in the mid 1900’s.

    Either way, it still holds the same nostalgia for me and I’m happy to put it back to use next week as I prepare our Thanksgiving meal.




  4. January 8, 2012 9:25 am

    Great story! I too prefer working with hand tools, but still love the connivence of modern technology. My wood shop has a slew of old planes and hand draws that I love busting my knuckles on.


  5. Eddie Wilson permalink
    March 12, 2012 2:40 pm

    Great article and thank you. I am the Ex Chef of a cooking school and I can’t stress the importance of knowing how to do something by hand before turning it over to the machine for. With your permission I would like to show this to some of my students.


  6. Gwen permalink
    September 14, 2012 3:58 pm

    I had been looking for a ricer for a few weeks since this year we had an abundant potato crop. Happened upon a ricer at an estate sale today, incorrectly grouped with woodworking tools for $2. Cleaned it up and read the markings. Then I saw your site while I was researching the “Cin’t Galv” on the handle. Love your story and wish I could have had a Mom Perry in my life. Grew up a city girl but remember lessons learned from my rural-born grandmother. Having a lot of fun, and good eating, going back to the basics. Thanks for sharing your family’s story. Can’t wait to share it over the mashed potatoes tonight!


    • September 14, 2012 6:13 pm

      Yeah, but what were the woodworking tools, Gwen??? 🙂

      Funny, I sometimes find great woodworking tools labeled as kitchen tools. Half of the Lignum Vitae carving mallets I have from Haiti were all labeled as “potato mashers” at antique stores.

      Hope you have fun with your new/old ricer! I love using mine!

      Thanks for the comment!


  7. Lisa Ratliff permalink
    October 19, 2012 10:28 pm

    I found this potato ricer today at a yard sale. How much is it worth today ?


    • October 20, 2012 1:17 am

      Lisa, unfortunately, probably not a lot. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen about three or four of them at various antique malls and none of them cost more than $10. Funny enough, the best one had the cheapest price (like $4).

      Of course, if you are looking for one because you want to rice potatoes the old fashioned way, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the flimsy pressed metal ones they sell at Target.


  8. Robert J. Rasmussen permalink
    January 6, 2013 8:17 pm

    I first learned about ricers in 2006; it was while watching Cucina Amore with Nick Stellino on PBS. He said to make light, fluffy gnocchi you must use a potato ricer. I’d never heard of one, but it looked like a garlic press with a thyroid condition.

    I knew the average department store didn’t carry them, so I searched the web and found more than one model at I immediately purchased a stainless steel unit made by OXO. When it arrived I was excited to show my 84-year old father, who I’d been caring and cooking for since Mom passed away some three years before. Dad took one look and said, “I have one of those packed away in the garage; it was your grandmother’s.” I was completely surprised. I thought this kind of utensil was new to the market, not very, very old.

    Sure enough, my late grandmother was a farm cook and she owned an old ricer for making mashed potatoes, great ones by Dad’s account. Unlike the ricer I bought, this one was heavy cast iron and had a removable cup with holes up the side. The manufacturer’s name had worn down and was difficult to read, but under the bottom handle were the clear, raised words “King Seamless-Cup Press.” With a little eBay research, I discovered it was made by the Cincinnati Galvanized Company, and one of its useful and long-lasting features was the seamless cup. I further discovered that potato ricers before the turn of the 20th century often had cups with separate bottoms that may have been welded or pressed into place.

    After being handed this kitchen utensil, the OXO sets collecting dust. I love this old ricer; I use it all the time for everything from mashed potatoes to egg salad, and I will use nothing else when I get around to making gnocchi. Unfortunately, Dad passed on in 2011, and this is just one of hundreds of things that will remind me of him and Grandma.


  9. January 10, 2016 3:50 pm

    I too found an old ricer many years ago at a garage sale. I put it away with some other old utensils that I intended to “someday” cleanup and hang on the wall. Well someday just never arrived and this year for Christmas dinner I was going to make mashed potatoes. I usually use a hand beater to whip them up but they never seem to come out completely un-lumpy or smooth. A friend said to use a potato ricer. Said she bought one on Amazon and it was just “ok” but made it sort of easier to mash the potatoes. It then occurred to me that I have a potato ricer.
    So I hauled out the old one. It was really heavy and a bit rusty, so I cleaned off all the rust and oiled it and plopped the potatoes into the basket. WOW! Those were THE best mashed potatoes I have ever eaten. Really!. Smooth as could be after going through the ricer. I only needed a fork to whip in the butter and milk. My friend said that her new one never got the potatoes that smooth and it was flimsy to boot. She is now looking for an old one too and throwing the new one in a drawer.
    I looked at mine again and I also have the same King Seamless Cup Press made by Cin”ty Galv. Co. It cost me $1 at the garage sale. One of the best purchases I have made in a very long time.
    It has lasted about 75 years already and, as well made and sturdy as it is, I am pretty sure it will be around for at least another 75. I’m passing it along to a nephew who lives and breathes mashed potatoes at holidays. Who would have thought a Potato Ricer could become a family heirloom?


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