3 Old-Time Kitchen Gadgets and Utensils You Should Be Using

kitchen gadgets utensilsIf I had to pick a kitchen tool I absolutely couldn’t live without, it wouldn’t be a hard contest.

Hands down, I’d choose my cast-iron skillet. I inherited the skillet from my mom, who inherited it from her mom, who inherited it from her mom. This skillet has made more cornbread than your local Cracker Barrel, and by now, it’s so seasoned that every loaf comes out perfectly crisp and flavorful.

There’s a lot to be said for today’s expensive, high-tech kitchen gadgets. We’ve got colorful avocado slicers, panini presses, vegetable steamers, and food processors. But many of these gadgets are made overseas. They often break long before they should. And some, like our┬áTeflon-coated cookware, might even be leaching dangerous chemicals into our food.

I often think that the cooks from decades past had it best. They had quality tools that really worked. Everything in their kitchens was used, and used well. And there were no fancy gadgets or expensive appliances that only served an occasional purpose. If a tool was lucky enough to grace a kitchen, then you could be darn sure it was going to have multiple jobs to do.

I used to have a kitchen full of such gadgets. I had serving platters that were specifically designed for bread and olives. I had an olive pitting tool. I had a pizza stone, a salt pig, and a lime-green tool just for juicing…you guessed it…limes. I spent a small fortune on all this stuff.

And then? I got rid of all of it, including some appliances you might be surprised you can live without. Aside from some kitchen remodeling, my kitchen now probably resembles the way one would have looked in 1945. And I don’t waste money on kitchen gadgets anymore because I have everything I need, and nothing I don’t.

Want to do the same, or at least add some quality kitchen tools? Here is a list of old-time kitchen gadgets I think we should all have in our kitchens.

1. Cast Iron Skillets

cornbread iron cast skilletI had to put these in first because cast iron skillets were made long before we had to worry about Teflon scraping off into our food. Cast iron skillets, when treated right, last forever. Really. My cornbread skillet is at least 80 years old, and it’s still in almost perfect condition.

I also have a cast-iron Dutch Oven and a deeper skillet. My three cast iron pots are the workhorses of my kitchen. I do everything with them, from baking bread to making stew to baking peach cobbler. They’re awesome.

Cast iron skillets are a great investment because again, if you treat them right, you’ll be handing them down for generations. They can often be picked up for a song at thrift stores and garage sales.

2. Mason Jars

mason jars fruit picklesWhen I started canning (a great do it yourself project), I learned to love the utility of mason jars. Sure, I bought a ton of jars to hold my homemade jam and pickles. But I quickly realized how useful these jars were for other tasks around the kitchen.

For instance, they’re great for food storage and reducing food waste. I know most people use plastic containers, and I used to as well. But plastic containers, like Gladware, might leach chemicals into our food, especially over time as you reuse them and the plastic molecules begin to break down. Plastic containers also stain, hold odor, and warp with the constant heating and cooling they go through.

I now use glass (or stainless steel) for all my food storage. And mason jars are a huge part of my arsenal, especially for hot soups. They’re cheap, there’s no danger from toxic chemicals, and they can be used over and over again without warping. Add that to the list of ways to recycle and reuse household items.

Mason jars make great vases for flowers. You can use them to store sugar, oatmeal, and flour and they’re also great for storing baking soda, for holding candles, and for making sun tea.

3. Mortar and Pestle

mortar pestle herbsThe mortar and pestle just might be one of the oldest kitchen gadgets apart from spoons and bowls. We’ve been using them for over 4,000 years, and they’re still just as handy now as they were then.

You can use a mortar and pestle to crush spices and herbs: they taste FAR better than the stuff you buy at the grocery store. You can use it to make pesto, pound garlic, and crush olives. There are endless uses for this tool, which many professional cooks consider to be the most underutilized tool in the kitchen.

Do you have any old-school kitchen tools you can’t live without? Any tools that you use regularly to help you save money?

  • Karmella

    A few years ago I got a new cast iron skillet – maybe I went wrong with the seasoning, I don’t know, but I never got the hang of using that thing. Maybe I should pull it back out, if I can find it.

    • Heather Levin

      Karmella- Cast iron skillets can be a bit tricky if you’ve never used one. Everything depends on how well they’re taken care of. So (if you can) try not to wash them with soapy water…cast iron is porous, and the soap will impact the flavor of your food. Instead, clean them with a regular rag in very hot water.

      Next, lightly dry them and then put them on the stove, with the burner on “low” to completely dry them out. Turn off the heat as soon as they’re dry.

      Last, take oil (vegetable or olive oil) and completely rub it in the inside of the skillet. Use a paper towel to really get the oil in there. This will “season” the pot and prevent it from rusting.

      I’d highly recommend giving your cast iron skillet another go. Once you get them seasoned well they’re fabulous for cooking. They’re definitely worth the extra time and effort!

  • http://frugalbohemian.blogspot.com Olivia

    I’m with you on the skillets, but would trade a really good knife and cutting board for your mortar and pestle. It’s a bit more versitile. Have to think about the canning jars. Thanks.

  • Connie

    Since we are on Moneycrashers, my favorite kitchen implement is the spatula, scrapes all my bowls clean so that I waste less (and save more).

    I am with Olivia on the good knife.

    I also love my big cooking pot, with a drainer insert. I don’t know if they had these a long time ago but it is simple and so useful.

    • Heather Levin

      Connie…I hear you and Olivia (and Michele!) on the good knife. It would have made a good addition to the list. Thanks!

      And I agree about the big pot. I use mine for both canning and making huge batches of gumbo…they’re definitely versatile!

  • michele

    A sharp paring knife. I peel over the trash or over the produce bag opened up on the counter, then I slice directly over the bowl or pot that needs the ingredients so that I don’t use the cutting board. (too much trouble to wash!)

    • Heather Levin

      Michele, you’re right on! I should have put a good paring knife in this list…I have a bright orange one that’s indispensable in my kitchen. Thanks!

    • Janet

      Vegetable peelings are a good item for the compost pile.

  • Debi

    I love my ricer for making “mashed” potatoes. I shudder to think how much Teflon I consumed in my childhood from my mom using a hand mixer in a nonstick pan!

  • http://www.groceryalerts.ca Steve Zussino

    I am not sure about mortar and pestle. My family loves pesto and I find a food processor or blender does an amazing job.

  • Janet

    I would be lost without my pressure cooker. They seem to have fallen out of favor, maybe because of horror stories about explosions (I remember these stories from my mom). If you are careful and follow the instructions, they are safe.

  • http://www.lainiesips.com Lainie Petersen

    I recommend a chef’s knife, ideally the best one can afford (I favor Global knives, myself.). If you get one that’s about 8 inches long, you’ll probably find that it can handle most kitchen tasks. Just be sure to take good care of it and get your money’s worth!