Slow Cooking — Vintage kitchen tools are making a comeback as we pivot to more home cooking and baking

A young contestant on a television baking show is puzzled by one of the tools at her workstation. While she’s stumped, I recognize it instantly—a hand-crank food mill, placed there to help her make the apple butter that’s part of the baking challenge.

Like that French food mill, there are other vintage cooking utensils and tools in my kitchen, or at least those with a long history of use and very little change in design.

Not only are these pieces sturdy, built in the days before plastic and instant obsolescence, many are more useful than their modern-day counterparts.

And as home cooking and baking make a comeback, thanks to a pandemic-forced shift to hearth and home, so do the tools and techniques that your grandmother used in her kitchen.

Take the aforementioned food mill. Mine is of European design, a basic stainless-steel tool that perfectly “rices” boiled potatoes for gnocchi or purees tomatoes when I’m canning tomato sauce. It has interchangeable discs, with holes designed to handle different jobs, and it’s still made in France, a tool unchanged since it was first designed in the 1930s.

Of course, a modern food processor or blender can make a similar puree almost instantly, but only the food mill can remove those pesky skins, making it indispensable in my kitchen.

Some vintage kitchen tools aren’t useful anymore, mostly because we don’t really need them. There’s the flour sifter, decorative but redundant when most of the flour we buy today is already sifted. Or the old ice cream maker that relies on rock salt and ice, instead of the more modern, freezable churn.

The “cake breaker”—a long-tined fork that resembles a wide-toothed comb—is a useful device to help you cut a delicate angel food cake. But unless you’re a cake baker, it’s likely not worth the space in the kitchen drawer. Copper jelly molds are attractive, but who molds jelly?

Yet many old kitchen tools are again in vogue as a new generation discovers traditional techniques, from bread baking and canning to sausage and cheese making, grinding grain, or naturally fermenting pickles, kombucha, and sauerkraut. For these classic culinary arts, traditional tools are often the best.

The vintage Medalta crock that sits in my kitchen holds a big bag of oatmeal today, but I can press it into service anytime as a fermentation vessel. It’s the perfect size to brine a turkey or pickle a peck of cucumbers.

My massive wooden batter (or butter) bowl holds a variety of fresh fruit in the kitchen but is also useful when making a big batch of bread dough.



At Everything Old, an antique store in Brentwood Bay, owners Andrew English and Amber Smith, can’t keep big vintage baking bowls, crocks, and other practical kitchen equipment on the shelves. Manual juicers are again popular, along with grinders for milling wheat or chopping meat for sausage. Even vintage cookbooks are hot sellers.

And with their online operation and social media presence, Everything Old is shipping antique kitchen ware to customers around the world. “We started this business after we found an old manual coffee grinder that we used at home and became curious about its history,” says English, who is devoted to researching the provenance of their eclectic inventory. Though they started small, selling antiques from their rented farmhouse, the business soon expanded into its current sprawling space.

“What we found was the more functional an item was, the cooler it became for us,” he says, describing customers who buy old butter churns to make butter at home or manual typewriters to inspire their next novel. “What I really like is meeting the people who will use these items,” he says, “and we offer lifetime support for that. We don’t want you to give up.”

The well-curated shop is set up like a museum, with artfully organized areas devoted to vintage photography equipment, war memorabilia, and other old stuff. But the centre of the store is a shrine to the kitchen equipment of days gone by, with impressive collections of pudding molds, meat grinders, Pyrex bakers, and collectible cast iron pans, some made more than a century ago and still perfectly usable.

English says cast iron skillets are particularly popular collectibles, with websites devoted to the history and care of vintage cast iron. It’s a nostalgic thing, he says, but practical, too, because there’s no match for the heat retaining capacity of cast iron when you want to sear a steak (or its enamel-glazed equivalent for a slow-braised stew). A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is a natural alternative to chemical-based nonstick pans.

Some of the funky mid-century serving pieces I love to collect and use are trending, too. Corning Ware, Pyrex, and FireKing bakers—also friendly in the microwave oven and perfect for making meaty terrines or loaves—are now highly collectible. Creamy-white milk glass bowls, many produced for 1940s and ’50s stand mixers, remain pretty and practical in the kitchen.

Vintage pressed-tin muffin pans and baking molds are both functional and cool to display in a country kitchen, and my cast iron muffin pan (and skillet) create corn bread with a lovely golden crust.

Mid-century modern serving trays, whether pressed from plywood or fashioned in stainless steel with Bakelite feet, make a statement for cheese and charcuterie. An oversized glass carafe with a spigot is perfect for self-serve lemonade, sangria, or big batch summer cocktails.

Vintage tools of the kitchen


While it’s fun to find old-fashioned equipment at antique and thrift stores, some of these culinary tools are making a comeback through companies like Lee Valley or specialty kitchen shops that sell modernized reproductions? I recently purchased a new, vintage-style ice cream scoop—the metal kind with a little spring-loaded bale that sweeps the frozen ball from the scoop—after frustration with the colourful, modern, silicone kind that always had me digging the ice cream out by hand. It’s also handy for perfectly portioning sticky cookie dough or making meatballs.

Lee Valley also sells big Mason Cash mixing bowls—reproductions of the vintage earthenware originals—with thick tactile rims and flattened sides that make them easy for holding and tilting while beating or mixing by hand.

Capital Iron has lots of replica tools on the shelf, too, including the modern equivalent of a vintage ceramic crock for pickling, a wide variety of canning equipment, and jars designed to “burp” your fermenting projects. Companies like Lodge still make a full line of cast iron skillets and baking pans, too.

You can even find a replica of an old-fashioned cookie press from OXO that employs similar manual technology but with some slight improvements to function. And there are many other old-fashioned kitchen gadgets, from apple peelers and hand-crank pasta machines to cherry pitters and little strawberry stemmers (fat tweezers that are also perfect for pulling bones out of fish fillets), all useful manual tools that have stood the test of time and found in kitchen stores around town.



As anyone who knows me well will tell you, it’s hard for me to resist a kitchen collectible. I love thumbing through an old cookbook to discover historic recipes, imagining the cook who scribbled notes in the margins, and perhaps used the same kinds of equipment I use myself. Fortunately, vintage kitchenware is both easy to find and often inexpensive to buy, making it fun for any collector. But these are also the simple tools that are simply the best.

I love the golden creamware and milk glass bowls on display in my kitchen, part of a cookware collection that’s both beautiful and fun to use. But it’s even more exciting to discover an interesting old gadget that I can press into culinary service!


NOTE: I’m so fascinated by cast iron I’m devoting a whole story to it in the March-April 2022 issue of EAT, so watch this space for more on this versatile cookware.




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