everal years ago, a reader sent me a Victorinox Swiss Army serrated tomato knife in the mail. It’s got a red handle and stands out among all the other knives in my kitchen utensil drawer. I use it nearly every day in the summer, but only to slice tomatoes, its intended purpose, for the sandwiches I practically live off of, and every time, I think of the kindness of someone I only know through the pages of Our State.
In the era of multitasking, I prefer a single-purpose gadget. It’s an appreciation I probably got from my dad.
He was a gadget man.
Oh, I wish you could’ve seen all the kitchen utensils my dad had, lined up so neatly in our drawers. He had a tool for everything: the two-sided melon baller, although we only ever sliced cantaloupe and watermelon into wedges; the wire egg slicer that cut hard-boiled eggs into ⅛-inch strips; an assortment of wooden-handled potato mashers; the garlic press; the butter molds; the strawberry-stem remover, skewers, graters, and a pasta maker that sat on top of the counter, although, like that melon baller, he never used it. I only ever saw the blue Mueller’s box in our house, its recipe for “Classic Lasagne” torn from the back of the box and taped to the inside of the cabinet door.
We had a cheese slicer attached to a wooden cutting board and a handheld vegetable chopper — you pumped the handle with your palm and sharp blades in the glass jar cut up onions and carrots. We had a hand-crank ice crusher mounted to the side of the cabinet over the sink, and a Hamilton Beach DrinkMaster in mint green for my dad’s milkshakes, always with Sealtest chocolate ice cream.
Some of my favorite gadgets (aside from that milkshake maker) were the corn holders he kept in a box and skewered to the ends of our corn on the cob in the summer. He had a box of bamboo ones from Reed Runners, a gift shop that was in Friendly Center in Greensboro for many years, and a set in the shape of miniature ears of corn, two stainless-steel picks on their ends. I remember my dad skewering a hot ear of corn on my plate for me and teaching me his trick of twirling the corn in a stick of butter, leaving a little valley in the top until my mother smoothed it back out with a butter knife.
He made sandwiches for my mom and me in the summertime — homemade egg salad, pimento cheese, BLTs. Now that sandwich was a production, and I loved to watch my dad assemble that sandwich, the same way every time. Bottom slice of bread, toasted, Merita Old-Fashioned White, slathered in mayonnaise. Three strips of bacon, Oscar Mayer, the only brand he’d consider buying. Next came tomatoes, picked that morning from his garden and still sun-warm — four slices, ⅛-inch thick, overlapping, salted and peppered. Crisp iceberg lettuce on top of all that, dried with a paper towel to keep the bread from getting soggy. A final smear of mayonnaise on the top piece of toasted bread and a cut straight down the center with a serrated bread knife. A purpose for everything.
And then my dad would slide our sandwiches over to my mom and me, smiling, satisfied with such a humble act — of caretaking, of providing — another purpose fulfilled.
Editor in Chief