Named by The Associated Press as one of the “Best Books to Get You Thinking About Food.”
The 18th century French epicure and gastronome, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said, “
Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”
And we believe that to be true. We love to see families that decide to spend time together in the kitchen or the dinner table and talking to people who value the food that goes into their bodies more than the other material things that surround them.
At Beekman 1802, we have a love for everything vintage. As recent as 50 years ago, design was much more focused on practicality and usability than wit and aesthetics. Given the whirring, beeping, fast-speed nature of modern society, pondering a vintage item seems to bring instant quiet and peace.
This is why we fell in love with Richard Snodgrass’ book, Kitchen Things (
you can buy it by clicking here)
Richard tells stories about how the utensils we choose can define who we are, how we live, and how lovingly we share food our family and friends. The stark photography and the storytelling make each item take on an unexpected emotional quality that clearly forms the links between the personality of the cook, the economic and cultural necessity of the times, and the influence of family tradition.
Richard kindly allowed us to present a small collection of photos from the book. We hope you enjoy as much as we did.
Squeezer | Misunderstanding makes the world go round. The result in most cases, I suspect, from differences of perception. Take this toothy fellow, for example. A co-worker from my wife’s office contributed it to this series, saying it was her garlic press. However, when I included it in an exhibition of my work, a woman informed me—in no uncertain terms, I might add—that it was a lemon slice squeezer. “Don’t be ridiculous,” said her friend, “it’s an ice cube crusher.” At this point, I have no idea what it is. No wars or divorces resulted from the above differences, though I can see how such misunderstandings can escalate. Added to that are the problems with perception itself. In his book The User Illusion, Tor Norretranders demonstrates how, of the estimated millions of bits of information that sweep through our senses at any given moment, only a tiny fraction reaches our awareness. The rest is simply discarded because we can’t process it all. What’s more, it seems our consciousness is on an inherent time-delay. There is approximately a half-second interval between the sensation of a pinprick and our conscious awareness of it. And in that half-second, our bodies can do miraculous things on their own, or interject all sorts of preconceived baggage. We think that we experience the world directly and that the self is the initiator of actions, but such is not the case. Our world is a simulation, a description of reality if you will, and we struggle to catch up with what we already know. All that and we haven’t even touched upon how the imagination gets involved. As I made this print, I was reminded of a Peter Max-like creature, something that might swim in an octopus’ garden with a yellow submarine. But as Mark, the owner of Sewickley Gallery who handles my work, hung it for a show, he told me, “I love the seagull.” My wife’s friend, however, probably had the last word when she heard about these divergent opinions: “I don’t know a thing about all that,” she said. “I just want to know when you’ll be done with my garlic press.”
Rolling Pin | “Nothing says baking like a rolling pin,” I say. “Too bad we don’t have one.” “Hold your horses,” Marty says. I am then presented with the south-end-of-Marty-headed-north as she gets down on hands and knees and begins rooting through the cabinet under the dry sink. In a moment, arm inverted, she waggles a rolling pin over her back. “Ah, another sacred relic of Grandma Beard,” I say. “Nope. Great Aunt Mary E,” she says, back on her feet. “Other side of the family.” I knew of Great Aunt Mary E (as opposed to Great Aunt Mary D) as the spinster on Marty’s grandparents’ farm. G.A.M.E. came to her brother’s farm after she bit her other sister-in-law on the ankle. There she took over the cooking chores. Whether anyone wanted her to or not. Rolling pins come in two general varieties. Rods are basically wooden pins like broom sticks, some thick, some thin, often referred to as the French or Asian style. Rollers, such as the one pictured here, have a revolving barrel that encase the shaft, theoretically making rolling the dough easier. In addition to being the traditional weapon in popular culture of the angry housewife, they are also handy for running over one’s thighs for poor circulation—but I’m not dispensing medical advice. Great Aunt Mary E’s specialty was icebox butterscotch cookies. I say to Marty that the cookies must be a treasured holiday memory. “Not really,” she replies. “They were always rock hard, even soaking them in milk didn’t phase them, and her recipe was for 17 dozen so we had to eat them forever. My teeth hurt just thinking about them.” “Didn’t anyone ever tell her not to make so many?” “Are you kidding?” Marty says. “You’d never say a thing like that to Great Aunt Mary E. She wouldn’t even allow anyone near the kitchen when she was cooking.” The woman was tiny, but formidable. Family legend has it that, when Great Aunt Mary E was in full flight, everyone kept their ankles covered.
Dish Rag | This may look to you like a common, ordinary dishcloth. And you would be right, of course. To me, it also looks like a Native American woman wrapped in a blanket, in the style of the late Southwest artist R.C. Gorman. But that’s just me. The point is that this common, ordinary dishcloth can take on different meanings to different folks. For instance, in our house, it is a Bone of Contention. “You’re not going to embarrass me, are you?” Marty, asks. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” I say. And have to rethink how I’m going to present this piece. The problem is that I once read that a dishcloth has the most germs of anything in the house. More germs than the toilet. As many as 4 billion living germs. All cohabitating merrily in the warm, moist comfort of the cloth sitting beside the kitchen sink. Here insert a large Yuk! Now, Marty is an intelligent woman. Presented with the facts, she can see the dangers. The problem is Grandma Beard. Grandma Beard always used a dishcloth. And to admit that Grandma Beard—paragon of all things clean, patron saint of Murphy’s Oil Soap—could have actually spread germs rather than eradicate them is hard to accept. In matters of cleanliness in our house, one does not go lightly against the memory of Grandma Beard. (If you’re beginning to get an Annie Hall-type ring to this, you’re not far off.) However, Marty is also a reasonable woman. She is quick to point out—rightly so—that the dishcloth in the photograph isn’t hers, that hers are all new and in good condition. (In fact it came from my mother-in-law’s, the Legendary Chub; why is this not a comfort?). And Marty changes dishcloths regularly, zapping them at times in the microwave. But still. Each time I see her wipe the cloth over the drainboard or dining room table, I cringe. Each watermark like the tracers of germ bullets. The contrail of a guided missile of disease aimed at my immune system. “You know,” she says sweetly, “if you don’t like the way I do it, you could always….” And nods toward the paper towels.
Cherry Pitter | Seeing is believing, goes the adage. Well, when it comes to photographs, Photoshop pretty much gives that the lie. But the adage was in trouble before software made it possible to alter a photograph’s take on reality. For instance, just because the fellow in this image looks rather insect-like, or possibly reptilian, doesn’t make it so. Or does it? In the tremulous world of the thing-in-itself, this is actually a cherry pitter—or stoner (no jokes, please). It’s a clever device for removing the pits (or stones) from the fruit on a large scale, such as preparing freshly-picked cherries from a local orchard or backyard tree for canning. We had such a tree in the corner of our backyard and I have fond memories of the day each summer when we picked the cherries—my father and sisters and I up on ladders among the branches; my mother in the kitchen tending the bubbling pots and the battalion of waiting Mason jars. Except I never liked the dark-colored mass that later glopped out of the jars. I much preferred the artificial cherry flavoring of Kool-Aid or soda, a disappointment no doubt to my mother when she made pies. The dusty jars sat on basement shelves for more than 20 years, everyone afraid at that point to go near them. Here the cherry pitter appears silvery but in fact it is cast iron, black as coal, its sheen a reflection of the lights. What to believe? The image is a reminder that, like a cherry, a photograph has at its core something that’s hard to sink your teeth into. Namely, that a photograph isn’t a window to the thing-in-itself. A photograph is its own thing-in-itself, with visions that can be very different than the thing portrayed. A photograph opens up a view into the emotions and associations of the viewer—a view in rather than a view out. If anything, it’s more a mirror than a window. Though that may be unpleasant to accept if you can imagine the subject of this image crawling out from some dark corner. Headed your way.
Box Grater | The truth is we can learn from things. They have experiences, stories to tell. The photographer Oliver Gagliani used to say a thing has a life of its own, a life-cycle just like that of a person: It has a birth, a youth when it’s new and fresh and untried, then it matures to adulthood, the height of its powers and use; finally it decays and becomes broken and old. Then there is this guy, who I nickname The Jolly Grater. (When I ask it if I may take its image, he appears to give me a grin.) The reference books and Wikipedia tell me that graters were invented by Francois Boullier in the 1540s so hard cheeses could still be used. They also say that this basic design dates back two hundred years, and who am I to argue? The advantage of this design is that it gives you as many as four graters in one; one side of this particular fellow is devoted to openings for slicing vegetables, which is why he’s smiling. The disadvantages of the design are well known to anyone who has tried to clean the insides of one, where the shredding can involve fingertips and dishcloths. The question remains, at least in my mind, why this guy is smiling? Or why do we perceive it to smile? I’m aware that one of the reasons I started to make images of these utensils—as can be said of all photography—is to see how they look as photographs. Because photography changes things; the subject is no longer the thing-in-itself, it become a representation of the thing; what’s more, as the subject of a photograph it becomes part of a new thing-in-itself, an image on a piece of paper, or on a screen, however the photograph is displayed. The difference between art and artifact, in a way, if art is the intention. A memory of a memory as it were. Yet this jolly fellow adds a whole new element; in addition to being an image to capture the spirit of those who used it, it takes on a new or added identity as a metaphor for something else. Something other. Graters don’t smile, we know that. And yet here he is, smiling. Quantum mechanics shows us that observing a phenomenon changes the phenomenon. Maybe photographing a thing not only changes the thing, it changes us.
Coffee Pot | Because of the pervasiveness of advertising, I tend to associate coffee—when I associate it with anything beyond where my next cup is coming from—with Brazil or maybe Columbia, with a manly-looking peasant in a serape and a nice burro, happily harvesting coffee for the rest of the world’s enjoyment. Oh sure, I’ve heard of Kona coffee from Hawaii, and Starbucks foists Ethiopian and Arabica blends on me at times, but overall there is Juan Valdez and his burro (yes, I know how terribly, terribly wrong that portrayal is). In fact, South America produces about half the world’s coffee. But how it got there is a story in itself. Legend has it that coffee was discovered by a Ethiopian shepherd boy in the 9th century who noticed his goats were particularly frisky when they ate the red berries of a certain tree. But the story is apocryphal. We do know that coffee drinking was documented in Yemen and Arabia in the 15th century, and a century later had spread to the rest of the Middle East, Persia, Turkey, and Africa. From there it went to Italy and the rest of Europe, Indonesia, and the Americas. The Dutch in the 17th Century were the main suppliers of coffee to the rest of Europe, and then did a curious thing: In 1714 they gave a cutting to the French king, Louis XIV, who cultivated it in the royal garden. A few years later, a young naval officer obtained a seedling and, despite a horrendous journey worthy of a Steve McQueen movie, transported it to Martinique. In 50 years it propagated more than 18 million coffee trees. Eventually its progeny spread throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America and today provides 90% of the world’s coffee. Quite a journey for the cells of that one little cutting, trickling down through the centuries to find themselves in the basket of this humble percolator—scratched and dented, splattered with paint from the time they redid the kitchen—bubbling along on top of the stove in the early morning light as Marty’s grandfather, John White, stands at the window looking out over his fields, then turns to pour his first cup for the day, reaching toward the handle as if to shake the hand of an old friend.
About the Author
Richard Snodgrass lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife Marty and two indomitable female tuxedo cats, raised from feral kittens, named Frankie and Becca.
His book of photographs and text on the Flight 93 Temporary Memorial,
An Uncommon Field, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. His novel, There’s Something in the Back Yard, published originally by Viking Press in 1989, was recently reissued by Amazon’s CreateSpace and on Kindle.
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