A Really Good Griddle

griddleTonight is Pancake Tuesday, which is how Catholic Canadians celebrate Mardi Gras or Shrovetide.  If you’re unfamiliar with the tradition, I wrote a bit about it here.

So yes, I’m eating pancakes for dinner tonight, which means I get to use one of my very favourite appliances, my West Bend counter-top griddle.

My parents received this griddle as a wedding present in 1981.  It takes 120 V electrical and runs at 1500 W.  It is a simple, flat, metal cooking surface, roughly 10″ by 16″, with a shallow trough along three sides, and a deeper, broader trough on the fourth to collect rendered fat. It is supported by hard plastic brackets that hold it above the counter on which is sits.

I can hear you: “Great description, Allan: it’s a griddle.  Big deal.  How is it different from the one I bought at London Drugs?”

Because the cooking surface is a six pound slab of cast iron, which gives it a heat capacity far exceeding any modern griddle.  And I could do without the sarcasm, thank you very much.

The sheer mass of iron means that the surface heats evenly; there aren’t any hot spots where the heating coil runs beneath, which means pancakes brown evenly.  Also you can load it with sausages and pancake batter without a serious sag in surface temperature.  Plus it’s durable: this griddle has been making Shrovetide pancakes and hash browns for more than thirty years.  It’s the only electric appliance I own that is actually older than me.  (I feel obligated to mention that one of the electrical components was replaced by my father-in-law a couple years ago.)

Another way to know that this griddle hails from a by-gone era: on the underside it is stamped, “Made in Canada”.  I’m personally not old enough to remember a time that Canada had a manufacturing industry.[1]

A heavy cast iron griddle is all well and good, but the skeptical among you may suggest that it doesn’t do anything that a good cast iron pan couldn’t.  To me the griddle’s value is in the quantity and variety of food it is able to cook all at once.  Granted, if you are a family of five you would still need to do multiple batches, but since this is the largest cooking surface in my house, it is most often used on special occasions.  At brunch, for instance, or to fry up a mess of colcannon on St. Patrick’s day.  All this to say I have very fond associations with this implement.

My pancake recipe can be found here.

 

#ButtonSoupTools is a series about my favourite kitchen tools, the ones that appeal to me for reasons practical or sentimental.

 

 

1.  Too soon?

Citrus Juicer

Juicing limes to make a cocktail called The Last WordThis is my citrus juicer.

It belonged to my grandma Suddaby.

It’s made of something called Depression glass, a tinted, translucent glass that was manufactured from (roughly) the 1920s to 1940s, hence the name.  It came in several colours, but most commonly funky neon green, or pastel pinkish orange.  Those are terrible colour descriptions, but that’s why I cook for a living instead of naming new shades of paint.  I imagine these colours were hyper-modern in the 1930s, though I have no source to confirm or deny this.  Depression glass was mass-produced and most often distributed as a free gift for people buying groceries or attending a show.  In other words it was Depression-era swag.  I asked my parents if they somehow remembered where this particular juicer came from, and they were pretty sure that the gas station in North Augusta (Ontario) gave them out.

I apologize: this is starting to sound like an episode of Antiques Roadshow.

This is definitely a tool with a narrow scope of work: it removes the juice from citrus fruits, which in my case means only oranges, limes, lemons, and, once in a blue moon, grapefruits.  Almost all of my fresh citrus consumption occurs in one of two situations: homemade brunch with fresh orange juice (not very common) and cocktail hour (rather common).

Old-school juicers and reamers are nowhere near as quick or efficacious as modern lever-style juicers: you need to lean over the counter and crank the halved fruit several times to crush the citrus-pockets and release the juice.  Personally I enjoy the pageantry, but what I really love about this little juicer is the quaint, thoughtful details of its design.  Of course there is the central cone, rounded to mimic the contours of the fruit, and ridged to maximize ease of extraction, but at the base of the cone is a little dam that holds back seeds and large bits of pulp.  There is also a small handle and spout for pouring out the coarsely filtered juice.

For most of my adult life I have quaffed Tropicana unabashedly.  This juicer reminds me that all of the orange juice my grandma drank (for the first forty years of her life) was manually juiced moments before consumption, and that citrus is actually a modern novelty to our part of the world.

Speaking of Tropicana, this juicer also reminds me that packaged “not from concentrate”  juices aren’t even remotely fresh.  Comparing the fresh-squeezed orange juice collected by this tool to a product like Tropicana, it is clear that they are not the same product.  This is because most of our packaged orange juice is processed to a near unimaginable degree. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please watch this CBC interview of the author of the book Squeezed.[1]

I have harped on citrus consumption before (see The Tyranny of the Lemon), but I have to admit mine experienced a marked surge after reading the book Imbibe by David Wondrich, which sparked a bit of a classic cocktail kick (about five years after the rest of hipsterdom) and had me buying citrus on the weekly.

Tonight I am juicing limes to make a cocktail called The Last Word.  This concoction is experiencing a revival due largely to the aforementioned Imbibe.  It is made of equal parts gin, maraschino (the liqueur, not the jarred fruit), Chartreuse, and lime juice, a strange group of ingredients, but as good an example as any of the alchemic magic of which a well-mixed cocktail is capable.  Certainly a far cry from the orange juice my tee-totaling grandma would have made with this simple but cherished implement.

 

#ButtonSoupTools is a series about my favourite kitchen tools, the ones that appeal to me for reasons practical or sentimental.

 

 

  1.  I waffled about whether to include this link or not.  The kernel of information at its core is so fascinating, but the interview was produced by the CBC’s 24-hour news stream, so it has those feeble, fear-mongering sub-titles that are apparently generated by someone who is listening to the interview in real-time.  And then there’s the ridiculous footage of some dude in Dudesville pouring himself a glass of OJ, as if this were somehow helpful to the audience (“Ohhh… orange juice.  I get it.”)  I’m left to wonder if that sequence was filmed expressly for this interview, or if they somehow had stock footage of “Man Pouring Orange Juice.”  Was that guy paid to do that?  Is he an actor?  Simply mind-boggling.  24-hour news is really just the worst.