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THE FRONT BURNER

FLS reporter Katie Thisdell serves up news on local food finds, tales from home cooks and inspiration to help you have fun in your own kitchen.

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Do you really need that?

I was in the kitchen aisle at Target the other day, pondering the virtues of the immersion blender. For only $19.99, I could avoid pureeing soups in batches, I could probably make baby food more easily, and I could get out of hauling my heavy blender out from its assigned slot in my lower cabinet every time I needed to blend something.

But then, I’d have to part with $19.99, I’d have to find a place for it and every time I called upon it to make my life easier, I’d probably have to utter a few choice words as I fought to untangle its cord from the collection of mixer beaters, measuring cups, bottle openers, vegeteble peelers and other convenience tools that is my kitchen drawers.

I left the blender at Target, but it popped back into my mind yesterday, as I was driving back to Fredericksburg from Orange County, where I’d spent some time with re-enactors of the 3rd Regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia, as they observed the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.

Fredericksburg resident Steve Blancard, a member of the 13th Virginia Infantry, Company A, spent some time showing me how he re-creates typical meals that Civil War soldiers would have eaten in various situations, for an upcoming Food story for the paper.

Blancard explained the distinctions between in-camp and campaign cuisine, which demonstrate two different levels of doing more with less, to borrow a phrase from recession-plagued workplaces.

In camp, a sturdy Dutch oven bubbled over the fire, and a large cast-iron skillet might even have been available. But those heavy, awkwardly shaped implements weren’t easy to carry on the march, so an all-purpose vessel like the “mucket” shown above might have served all of a soldier’s drinking, mixing, boiling cooking and other needs, culinary and otherwise. In a pinch, a quick skillet could be cobbled together by affixing half of an old canteen to a stick with some wire (shown at right).

Find a sturdy piece of wood to use as a cutting board with your pocket knife and throw in an all-in-one utensils tool and you were pretty much set to make what you could of army rations of salt pork, hard tack, molasses and other staples, along with whatever you managed to forage.

There wasn’t much room for tools that only served one purpose. Even the butt of a rifle did double-duty as a tool for grinding corn into meal.

While additional tools might have made meal prep easier, the energy it would have taken to carry them wouldn’t have been worth it.

Similarly, in our own kitchens, one-purpose tools advertised as the quick road to easy avocado-slicing or egg-separating often cause more angst in the messes they make of our utensils drawers than they shave time from our food-prep routines.

If you had to pack up your kitchen and move it every day, would you be able to carry enough tools to make decent meals? The answer is probably yes. You’d just have to part with most of the crap you bought in the kitchen aisle at Target.

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Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/frontburner/2011/04/18/381/