I was making bread this morning when my Kenwood Chef started making ominous protesting sounds. It’s an old model, because my experience of the latest ones could best be described as profoundly negative (any further explanation would consist of much swearing, shouting and the hurling of ‘guarantees’ across the kitchen) but It’s been fine. Not as fine as my old old one – if you see what I mean – which was given to me when one of my neighbours died. That had been deeply loved, had a history and a hand-sewn cover but it also died eventually; my ‘new’ old one came from eBay. It was reconditioned, and it worked just fine.
Due to repeated hand injuries, I can no longer do all the kneading by hand when I make bread. So what to do, now that my Kenwood is doing banshee impressions? I’ve tried no-knead or short-knead breadmaking methods and I either don’t care for the end result or can’t manage my life with a stopwatch (8.30: knead the dough for 10-15 seconds … 9.00: knead the dough for 10-15 seconds…). So I’ve settled for a tortoise approach – I’ll think about it when I have to. But in the meanwhile it made me think about what equipment I had that I couldn’t live without. Well, obviously I could, in extreme circumstances, but hey.
I’m baking at the moment, so I initially considered the things I use for my bread. I wouldn’t care to be without my bannetons – Carrefour, I love you – but if needs be, I can improvise with a bowl and a linen tea towel. Then there are the two ancient dough scrapers, which are fantastically useful. I suppose I could improvise an alternative? Yes, I know I could – I once used a credit card. It was never the same again, but that was probably just as well. What about a flour shaker? Obviously I could just chuck flour over the linen tea-towel in my banneton bowl, the worktop, the floor, myself and Next Door’s Cat who thinks he lives here; that would work.
I was on a roll (otherwise known as waiting for the oven to heat up), and opened the stuff drawers. I remember an episode of Gavin and Stacey, in which everyone was searching for a take-away menu and it was suggested that it might be in ‘the messy drawer’. All my drawers are like that. Time to sort them out, perhaps.
There are three of them, vaguely organised by diminishing frequency of use. So drawer one consists of cutlery and things like scissors and tin openers and corkscrews and a digital timer; drawer two has bulkier stuff like a plastic funnel (so attractive), pizza cutters (plural? How did that happen?), graters, hand whisks and rolling pins, and drawer three is the – well, the one-offs. And then there are the old pickle jars (three of those too) which hold the wooden spoon collection and the collection of – er, more stuff. Spatulas, etc. (A new swear word, I think. Oh, spatulas!)
I used to be, you see, an equipment slut. Used to be?
I blame Divertimenti (you’ve got to blame someone). They used to be on the Fulham Road, and I didn’t live that far away, plus I was at the stage of being in my first place and just having to add to my kitchen. And they opened on Sundays, or am I imagining that? Anyway, I would spend far too much time wandering around, picking up expensive pans, putting them down again, fondling obscure pieces of kit and buying some of them.
It’s the resulting one-offs that I could easily live without – crème brulée iron, anyone? – though I have to say that an oyster knife is just perfect for getting solid lumps of dried mud out of the tread on your walking boots. How my life has changed.
At some points I’ve improvised alternatives for all sorts of things. An wine bottle can sub as a rolling pin, and I have opened a tin by stabbing it repeatedly with a screwdriver (er, not recommended at all, plus it takes ages). I’ve whisked with a fork, which worked though it did take a couple of days to regain the use of my shoulder. Much as I love my ancient wooden spoons, and despite the extent to which I am baffled that some people manage without any, I could always use a stick.
(What sort of future am I envisaging here, I wonder? I’ve been reading something about partisans behind German lines in Eastern Europe which may account for this whole speculation, but have no intention of eating very old, very dead horse. Or people, but we won’t go there.)
It was only when the bread was cooked that I realised the piece of kitchen equipment that I absolutely cannot do without, or rather the pieces. I could throw everything out tomorrow, but leave me my knives. And a steel. They’re nothing flash, just a selection of Kitchen Devils and a rather old Prestige bread knife with a naff red handle dating back to the late 1980s (guess who had a red and white kitchen? Must have looked like a pizzeria). But I keep them scarily sharp and love them dearly. I’ve had ‘posh’ knives, and I’ve got rid of them, finding them more trouble than they were worth (and pigs to sharpen, too). So take my dariole moulds if you must, but leave me my four-inch vegetable knife.
And a corkscrew. Natch.