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Any rustic "caveman tech" gadgets in your kitchen?

Just wondering what kind of kitchen gadgets are actually used by CH'ers that are as far removed from the industrial age as possible.

The most primitive items in my kitchen probably are:

* a heavy hand-operated (and hand-carved) Chinese millstone (not sure of the stone used, though)

* thin sticks of bamboo bundled together and simply tied into a whisk-like configuration; I use mine it to brush clean my Daikon grater under the faucet. I've also seen it used to clean the innards off the bone of some fish.

* a molcajete carved out of volcanic stone (a Mexican mortar and pestle)

* a surikogi - a rustic pestle whittled out of a thick branch of Japanese prickly ash (sansho) to use for my suribachi, a type of Japanese mortar)

* a chasen - a handcarved bamboo whisk used to prepare matcha (the tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony)

Not included in this list are various items that while simple uses more modern means of fabrication. Any items along similar lines in your kitchen that you'd care to share?

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  1. I actually have a rock that I use to crack or crush nuts.

    It caught my eye, as I was walking, and wondering what in the world a perfectly round potato was doing on the ground at the beach, and resided in my kitchen for a bit, before becoming a utensil.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Popkin

      I've used a wine bottle as a rolling pin before.

      I hate my pestle and mortar.

    2. Molcajete, which I'd like to trade in on a big scoopy nonporous rock and a smaller rock, or a Thai mortar and pestle of marble or clay.

      And I trimmed a banana leaf out of the backyard for a dumpling-steaming undergirding the other night. It looked pretty primordial when I was out there in the dark with the flashlight.

      And fire. I use fire. Quite a lot, actually.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Cinnamon

        Nice! Very "Gilligan's Isle", that banana leaf!

        Wow, that Thai M&P looks great! Would be nice to have one so big!

        1. re: cgfan

          Depends on how keen you are on hernias.

          1. re: Paulustrious

            It may in fact be lighter than the stone grinder I already have in my kitchen!


      2. Along with the "...molcajete carved out of volcanic stone" I have the funny little round brooms that are sold with them for cleaning. - looks like dried root material.

        A wine bottle to kill fish (with a single quick bash)

        The chopsticks I carved out of bamboo one night in remote East Timor because I was tired of eating by hand

        "Me fists, got one on th' end of each o me arms" - the Jamie Oliver meat flattener

        A hand made huge and very heavy relatively shallow (30" x 18" x 5" deep) hard-wood molcajete and pestle from Pucallpa, Peru, used to make an Amazon mash up. The woman in the restaurant happily took a new one I bought to trade from the market in exchange (same thing but not knicked by years of knives and impregnated with cooking oils. Very heavy. If I leave it out in the hot sun, I can still get a bunch of palm oil leaching out of the wood. I've never used it, but it is beautiful!

        6 Replies
        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Wow Sam, do you have a photo of your hardwood molcajete/pestle?

          Have to admit I've got a thing for collecting M&P's. There's something very primal about them...

          Must have been influenced by seeing so many "potholes" (depressions in the rock used to grind grain) left by the Native Americans all throughout the California desert.

          1. re: cgfan

            I grew up with the indentations in the granite beside streams that were used to (and came about from) grind acorns in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California. I'm charging batteries to take a photo to send. Maybe email me if you really have a collection - I'd certainly enjoy having it in the hands of someone who really appreciated it.

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Sounds like it already has a good home, Sam! Sounds beautiful, though. From the sound of it your molcajete could spark another thread on the subject of huge kitchen utensils.

              BTW what's an Amazon mash-up?

              1. re: cgfan

                Sort of a mofongo: fried up plantains or yuca (cassava) mashed up in the pilon with stock, maybe lard, and sometimes mixed with some meat.

              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Any reason the pilons are so big? Is it for some sociological reason, like large families or communal cooking practices, etc. And by being so huge, I'm imagining that they might typically be used outdoors - no?

                1. re: cgfan

                  "Pilones". Used indoors. Lots of starch and grease! Big work.

          2. I crack heavy lobster shells with a 6 inch cast iron frying pan. Put lobster in plastic bag and go out to concrete driveway.

            1. I use an ancient chopstick to test hot oil for readiness

              I have empty wine bottles to flatten 'stuff' in lieu of using my meat mallet

              I use this bendy straw and toothbrush approach to cleaning off my microplane (does that count??!) the bendy straw scrapes the zest off for me, the toothbrush is for the actual soapy cleaning of the thing.

              I have this awesome old, broken, wooden spoon that I use as a goopy-food pusher into the disposal.

              Some of my dish towels are from the 80's.

              Instead of using pot holders to yank the oven rack out to flip stuff or check done-ness, I have a wooden hook (also a ruler on one side) that I can use to pull out the oven rack and push it back in. It is faster for me and easier than dealing with pot holders, pot holders never shield me from intense oven heat. I have the silicone ones and they make my hands feel like lobster claws. hate 'em.

              (Didn't mean to turn this into a rant!)

              1. I have a big thai granite mortar and a puerto rican pilón de madera (to make mofongo!). i also have a small clay olla to make chocolate and cafe de olla if that qualifies (i dont know if that might be considered neolithic tech)

                3 Replies
                1. re: kirinraj

                  How do you like working with the Thai m&p, and also the pilon de madera? The Thai m&p may be next on my buy list but larger wood Thai ones are also in the running. I would think the bashing ability would be better with the granite type but maybe not ... say for making curry paste.

                  1. re: Cinnamon

                    I love the thai granite mortar. its great for grinding spices, garlic and pastes. The pilon is also good, but i only use it for mofongo.

                    1. re: kirinraj

                      Having never knowingly had a mofongo, I shall get the granite mortar.

                2. Wooden spoons from '82, still going strong!
                  Hmm... I have a few items from my grandparents:
                  The classic tapered rolling pin, probably maple. It's just enough out of round to look like a tree branch.
                  Everything else has iron in it, so it's really not pre-industrial per the OP. But, how many folks have wooden handled iron larding needles? Or carbon steel knives with no maker's marks on 'em (ebony and beech scales on full tangs): a cook's, a butcher's scimitar, a boning and a fillet. Long & sharp!
                  Does a 19th century copper pan count?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: toomanypots

                    Oddly enough I have both a butcher's scimitar and a wooden handled larding needle. They date back to when my SO's father opened a shop in an ex-butcher's premises 30 years ago. The larding needle comes in useful quite often - though not necessarily for larding.

                    1. re: toomanypots

                      The tapered rolling pin is known as a French pin. I use one to roll out doughs. Unintuitively they seem to work out way better in controlling the shape of the dough then the conventional American rolling pin, at least in my experience.

                    2. I don't pound a lot of nails day-to-day, but during stone crab season (which ended 8 days ago-boo hoo), I use a standard 22 ounce head carpenter's claw hammer on my jumbos and colossals. As for banana leaves for baking fish pebil style, I can snag more wild leaves on a 10 mile bicycle ride than I could possibly carry. And they are year-round. Florida has certain virtues.

                      1. I also have a round stone I crush garlic with. And I have an old fashioned meat mallet that was my grandmother's. I use it sometimes. Also from my grandmother's kitchen is an old piece of tempered glass with a black knob. You are supposed to use it to keep bacon flattened in the skillet when frying. It has to be 50 years old. Came from Miles Kimble..

                        1. Off the top of my head, I know I've used one of those old vise apple peelers. Does anybody still use those old egg poaching pans?

                          I use a beer bottle to pound chicken breasts. Which I empty first by taking off the bottle cap with a key.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: himbeer

                            A big-a$$ rubber-headed mallet with flat and convex surfaces that's perfect for scallopini. Converts boot-tough "veal" into toothsome morsels in about 5 well-aimed whacks. Priceless.

                            1. re: Kagemusha

                              Agreed on the scallopini use. I also use it when cutting a chicken into 16 pieces. Tapping the mallet onto the back edge of the bone cleaver when wanting to get an accurate and less-shardy cut thru the bones.

                          2. Knives! Knives are prehistoric! I have some Old Hickorys that look pretty old and rustic. Rusty, too...

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Scargod

                              That's from carving too many slices of Wild Turkey.

                              1. re: Veggo

                                I have an old bellows for putting air into Wild Turkeys. That's another of my old kitchen gadgets I forgot about.

                            2. Just wanted to add some more to our growing collection that I just recalled after reading Scargod's post:

                              * Konro/Shichirin - a traditional Japanese grill carved out of lightweight stone

                              * Binchotan - (though it's a consumable) traditional Japanese charcoal

                              * a flute-like implement carved out of bamboo to blow air onto a charcoal fire when using the Konro

                              * a hand-held traditional Japanese fan made of paper and bamboo that I also use when firing-up the Konro

                              (BTW if one is interested in kitchen, wood-working and household rustic-tech and is in the L.A. area I'd highly recommend a visit to Anzen Hardware in the middle of L.A.'s Little Tokyo on 1st Street. They tend to carry a lot of these kinds of items in addition to a broad selection of Japanese knives which has caught the attention of many of L.A.'s chefs.)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: cgfan

                                Wooden spoons from the 1960's. We have a 1967 Oster blender, all metal and glass, works like a charm. Bamboo steamers, cavemen probably did use these. Small paint brushes for basting. Fire pit in the courtyard. a bamboo and wire spider. Cast iron skillets, corn sticks pan, bean pot.

                              2. Wooden spoons, potato masher (looks like an old German hand granade), carving knives, lots of antique kitchen ware handed down from past generations.

                                What's the difference between a molcajete and a mano and matate?

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                  They appear to be rocks with a concaved surface (but not always basalt?) or flat rocks and higher at one end so the meal runs off. Molcajetes are typically round with legs so I would guess that if the don't follow this shape then they are a matate.

                                  1. re: Scargod

                                    Hey, I cooked mussels and clams on flat rocks in a campfire this weekend and cooked for 11 for 3 days on isolated Maine islands w/ only what could be carried in a kayak.
                                    Fred Flintkeg

                                    1. re: Scargod

                                      All I can chime in with is my molcajete is porous and rough (great for dry ingredients). I'm looking into a Thai granite one that is smooth so I can do more with wet ingredients without them drying out.

                                  2. Years ago from Ghana I brought back an "ayeuva," a very rustic and traditional mortar & pestle used in that country to grind spices, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, and boiled leaves, among other foods. (It's also used for serving fufu and soup).

                                    The mortar, finished in black, is about 8 to 10 inches in diameter--and shallow. Grooves encircle the inside of the mortar to help the grinding process. The pestle is hour glass-shaped and carved from a single piece of wood. It's 3" long and has a base and head about 2" wide. You fit the top of it in your palm, close your hand around it and use wrist action to grind.

                                    It is so much fun to use and very efficient. Most recently, I've used it to grind black peppercorns when my pepper mill gave out on me.

                                    It's my sentimental and very functional "caveman tech" treasure.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: h2Bn

                                      A picture of the ayeuva:

                                        1. re: Cinnamon

                                          Yes, it is very similar.
                                          That's a cool site, Cinnamon. Thanks for leading me to it.