Friday, August 9, 2013

My New Old Treasure

by Sheila Connolly

Our town is home for an auction house, which holds auctions of miscellaneous junk at the Rotary Club hall every few months.  The types of item vary widely, both within and between auctions. For a while they had a lot of Nazi militaria (which seldom sold at all), and a few months ago there was a row of five or six nice mahogany chests of drawers.  You never know what you'll find.

Last week I went to the preview, and the first thing I encountered when I walked in was a table full of antique cooking utensils.  Like someone had entered a time warp and grabbed everything small from a Victorian kitchen:  choppers and egg-beaters and poachers and butter molds and a bunch of things I can't even identify.  It was all one lot, of 51 pieces.  And I wanted it.

I went to the auction; I bid; I won (even within the dollar limit I had set myself).  I am now the proud owner of a hodgepodge of antique (not vintage, nope—older than that) cooking items.  And I plan to try them all out.

Round one:  the choppers (note: there were no knifes in this collection).  An even dozen, all different.  Or maybe thirteen, if you could the strange bell-shaped one.  I think they're gorgeous—hand crafted, with lovely wooden handles.  So of course I had to find out how they worked.  Guess what:  they work just fine, and each one works a little differently.

Confession:  when I first looked at the lovely array of sharp-edged tools, my immediate thought was, "what great murder weapons!" I'll be testing them with that in mind.  They fit so nicely in my hand, and I just sharpened them…

Okay, back to the real world. I set myself the task of chopping the onion for today's dish:  stuffed squash.  What can I say?  They had cute, stripey locally-sourced pattypan squash at our market, and I had to take them home.  They make a pretty presentation, and the stuffing could be used in a wide variety of vegetables—peppers, or even onions.  Anything that starts out hollow or that you can hollow out without the vegetable collapsing.

Stuffed Squash 
(this filled four small squash, but you can multiply the recipe)

1 small onion, chopped

1 Tblsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 lb sausage
1/2 cup white bread crumbs, soaked in milk
Fresh thyme (or other herbs)
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Slice the smaller end off the squashes and hollow them out with a melon baller or small sharp spoon (try not to pierce the skin).  Place in a lightly oiled baking dish.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Place in a large bowl and let cool.

When the onion mixture is cool, add the sausage, breadcrumbs (drain off the excess milk), herbs, salt, pepper and cheese.  Mix (hands work well for this!).

Fill each of the hollow vegetables with the mixture.  Stand them up in the baking dish and sprinkle a little more oil over the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes (length of time will vary depending on how large your squash or vegetable are—you want to be sure the pork sausage is thoroughly cooked).

These can be served hot or warm (so can be made ahead).

Next time:  the six antique egg-beaters!


  1. Those are really cool tools. Have your tried to look them up to see - individually - how they were originally used?

  2. My kind of research, Diane! I've ordered a couple of books on antique kitchen tools (I already have two for antique farm implements) but they haven't arrived. There are so many things like this that nobody ever bothered to record because they were so ordinary.

    But now I've got the opening for a new book... Those early choppers have sturdy steel blades, and take an edge very nicely. (Sound of evil laughter.)

  3. We have friends who used to own a farm and dude ranch in upstate NY. Pat, the owner's wife had a collection of antique farm tools and kitchen tools which she'd display all around the dining room, and check in area. I wonder what ever happened to them when they sold out (to a charity that turned it into a summer camp)and moved to New Jersey. (I guess I'll have to ask them one day.)

  4. I heard you talk about those instruments, but seeing them is a different matter! I suspect you were the only buyer who was thinking of murder weapons as you shopped!

  5. Sheila, what an intriguing find. I love seeing those old (antique!) kitchen tools.

  6. What fun, Sheila! What's the one on the very top? Is that the bell-shaped one? It looks like it has a star on it.

    So how did the chopper work? Better or worse than a knife?

    I have to say that pattypan squash is one of my favorites. I love squash anyway and have a lot of yellow squash about to ready to harvest. Should plant pattypan next year.


  7. Sheila, we have one that is a little different from any of yours that my husband brought back from the Northwest Circle many years ago. This one is (was) used by Inuit women to shave bits of meat from seals. As I understand it, they call it an ulu, or "woman's knife".

    All this info is from my husband, but when I went to look it up further, lo and behold, it was exactly right: Ours doesn't look like any of these either; it is curved on the top, as well as the blade, and fits my hand nicely, which makes me think whoever it was made for also had small hands.

    I use mine to mince herbs on a flat surface, but it would work ever so much better in a curved bowl of some kind.

  8. Krista, I'm working my way through the collection. It's interesting how differently each one works, even chopping the same thing. The pretty curved one in the picture above worked very well on the onion. Makes me wonder when and why everybody decided that knives were better.

    Karen, I agree about the curved bowl. My mother used to have a shallow wooden one that would be great, but I'm not sure where it is. But any curved bowl makes it easy--I used yet another chopper on peaches. Love your description of the "ulu"!

  9. Great treasures, Sheila! Your posts are always so much fun. I love stuffed squash. Thanks for this.


  10. I saw your treasures and laughed! You have half my kitchen there!!! I still use the tools from my grandmother, and my husband's grandmother...they both would be....hmmm110 yrs old these are tools they started their married lives using...and you do need that round bowl....I have several of their combined mixing and chopping bowls. Take steel wool to them, sharpen them, oil the wood handles with glycerin, let it set a day, and rub excess off...and your're good to go....what a treat for you!!!