Monday, May 31, 2010

Stop buying appliances!

Last winter I attended the Family Farmed Expo at the UIC Forum. Inspired by the Eat Real Food Challenge, this was the event that got me rolling SLOW*ly into eating real. I attended several of the seminars/lectures on tips for seasonal and local shopping.

They had great ideas for where and what to buy, and recipes, and their enthusiasm was motivating, even inspirational. But they stopped their thinking at the food. One lecturer brought up no fewer than 7 appliances that she used: vacuum packer, pressure canner, dehydrater, extra freezer, food processor, juicer, pasta roller. I assume in addition she also had the typical kitchen appliances of fridge, mixer, oven, stovetop, microwave. Others mentioned bread and pasta "machines," and seemed not to understand the irony of statements that these things were pretty affordable at Target, or that you could buy them on line from this great sustainable merchant in British Columbia. Or the Outer Hebrides for all I know.

There was lots of talk about "food miles" and supporting local farmers, but not a twinkle of consideration about "appliance miles." Local is not just food. Local is buying from the last merchant-owned Rexal drugstore in your neighborhood instead of Osco, or the Centrella Market instead of Safeway, or True Value instead of Lowe's. Sustainable is not just riding a bike instead of a car. It's also using your hands instead of a machine, to do those things that the machine doesn't do any better.

You don't need all those specialized appliances to make canned goods, juice, syrup, jams and preserves, bread or anything else, and you won't lose time or quality just doing it by hand. (You'll save time just because you won't be constantly hauling out appliances. Unless you live at America's Test Kitchen, where they hell are you keeping all that stuff?)

Here are the appliances/utensils you need to preserve an entire year's harvest for your family, and to make all your baked goods at home. Most don't use any electricity, and all are available from locally owned merchants:

Pastry mixer
Egg beater
Several different sizes of whisk
A dinner fork
Potato peeler
Several size knives
Mortar and Pestle
Rolling pin
Stove top
extremely large pot (for heat canning)
Hand held mixer, (if you make baked goods that use a batter, or lots of whipped cream. Otherwise, not so much. I almost never take mine out)
Okay, extra freezer

Useful, but not necessary (I don't have these, or any of the appliances named in the text):
Stand mixer
Large food processor (I actually need one of these, because I mash a lot of veggies for preserving, like squash, eggplant, and garbanzos.)

Everything on this blog was made with these Xan-powered utensils. Not a pasta roller in sight.

Chocolate-Pear Scones

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 1/2 T cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
2 to 2 1/2 cups diced pears (¼-inch cubes; cut just before you use them)

½ cup honey
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream + 1/2 cup milk, whisked

Preheat oven to 400F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Adjust a baking rack to the middle position.

Mix the dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in the butter with a pastry mixer, knife or your hands until it resembles a coarse meal. Peel (with a potato peeler), dice (with a knife), and then stir the pears into the flour mixture. Lightly beat the honey, egg, yolk, and milk/sourcream together in a bowl (with a fork) , then add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined (it will be thick and sticky).

On a well-floured surface with floured hands, pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick round (about 8 inches in diameter). Using a 2-inch round cutter or rim of a glass dipped in flour, cut out as many rounds as possible, rerolling scraps as necessary. Arrange rounds about 1 inch apart on baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer the scones to a cooling rack and let them cool slightly before serving.

*SLOW=Seasonal Local Organic Whole, in case you hadn't figured that out (took me a while)


  1. You know, I have this same rant (um, I mean well-thought out and considered point of view) about garden tools. I'm just not a gadget person. I get 90% of everything I need done with three hand tools. I don't know from cooking, but I do have everything on your list except a pastry mixer, which I'm assuming are those half moon strippy things? Anyway, I hear ya sister! (I dread the day I'll need to buy a new refrigerator... mine has been on life support for over a year.)

  2. This was an excellent post. I don't have all those fancy appliances, but probably more then I need. As they finally break, I may not replace them and start going by hand a little more.

  3. I love hearing about your health improving just because you've started eating more natural foods and less processed junk. I"ve been so busy lately getting the garden set up that I haven't been visiting as often as I'd like. So, so, so glad to hear you doing well!