Kitchen tools and equipment before plastics
This page illustrates and comments on tools and equipment that were commonly
used in food preparation and cooking before the middle of the 20th century, but
are seldom, if at all, seen nowadays. I have personally used
all the tools and equipment shown here or seen older people using them.
Potato peeler. Note the string round the handle which
helped to keep the blade in place and gave a good grip.
The string always got wet and mucky in use, so was very unpleasant
to hold. It took ages to dry.
Mint and herb chopper. Mint grew in most gardens, and mint sauce was the
accepted accompaniment to roast lamb. The mint leaves were placed in
a chopping board and the tool was repeatedly rolled over them.
Food cover against flies, made of a metal mesh and very awkward to
store because it couldn't be flattened.
Steel (not stainless steel) kitchen knife which needed to be sharpened regularly and so gradually wore away.
See below for the knife sharpener.
Knife sharpener. The steel blades of the knife were drawn repeatedly across the
sharpener, blunt edge first. Note the wooden painted handle.
Various aluminium and copper cooking pots: back left, a kettle; back
right, a pressure cooker; front left, a copper saucepan (whose
handle would have got very hot!) and front right, a regular saucepan
with a Bakelite handle.
Egg saucepan. Before non-stick coatings, a small
saucepan was kept specially for boiling eggs, because the scale from
the boiling water built up inside it.
Wooden stamp for stamping out designs onto butter pats (when
entertaining) and the resulting pat of butter.
No, not a darning mushroom! It was much larger. When boiled cabbage was a common vegetable,
it needed to be dried after cooking. So it was placed in a colander and the 'cabbage mushroom' was pressed into it to force the water out through the colander holes.
Toasting with an extending handle to keep hands reasonably cool while holding slices of bread close to a fire to toast.
A more elaborate everyday toasting fork for making the bread face the hottest
part of the fire.
Butter knife, used for in the more up-market
families for removing butter from the butter dish. (My own family
used an ordinary knife unless they were entertaining.)
Enamel steamer. The food to be steamed is put into the top pan
which has holes in the bottom. The lower section
contains water. When boiled, the steam goes into the top
pan and cooks the food there. Note that the pans are
made of enamel.
Cream maker. A specified mixture of unsalted
butter and warm milk were put into the top container and forced through a
nozzle by repeatedly pumping the lever up and down. This combined
the milk and butter, so making cream drop into the
glass jug. It was hard work and also time consuming as all butter
was sold salted. So, before use in the cream maker, the salt had to
be removed by pouring hot, but not boiling, water onto the butter, which dissolved the
salt, then cooling the mixture until the butter almost solidified
and scooping it off.
Glass butter dish, used widely when butter was
weighed out and patted
into shape at the time of purchase.
Meat mincer. When the remains of the Sunday roast had to last for the rest
of the week, the remains had to be minced
up for hash. The mincer screwed onto the edge of a table; then lumps or slices of
meat were fed into the top and the handle was turned. There was a
screw arrangement to force the meat
through small holes and into an awaiting bowl. There were different fittings with
different sized holes.
Jar for preserving fruit, generally known as a 'Kilner' jar. The
glass jar was sterilized and heated in the oven, boiling cooked
fruit was poured in, filling the jar to the brim, the lid was sealed
shut using a rubber ring and a pressure clip to keep out air.
Enamel bowls and pie dishes.
One cup tea maker. The loose tea was placed in
the mesh case which opened or closed by squeezing the handle. Then
the tool was placed in an empty cup and boiling water was poured on
- rather like using a modern tea bag.
Tea cosy to keep the tea in a teapot hot. Note that it
is made of knitted wool, layered to trap air for
Corkscrew with a wooden handle, once painted red but with the paint worn off.
Tin opener and corkscrew.
Glass orange or lemon juicer. The fruit was halved and pressed into the central spike. The pips were caught in the inner ring
of smaller spikes while the juice flowed out into the larger ring from where
it could be poured off.
Butter coolers. See the page on food storage for
No plastics - so what were the tools were made of?
These tools come from a time when
there were no plastics readily available (other than Bakelite, an early very rigid plastic that chipped
all too easily),
no man-made fibres, no stainless steel and no non-stick coatings. So all the tools were
made from one or more of the following:
- Clay, such as earthenware (unglazed, porous and reddish brown);
stoneware (glazed, fired at a particularly high temperature to make it
hard, and usually white or beige); brick, china
- Wood, either untreated and known as white wood or treated with paint
- Metal, such as steel (which tarnished badly), 'tin' which was
actually galvanised iron or steel, cast iron
or enamel; and later aluminium
- Tin - actually galvanised iron
What galvanisation is
Galvanisation is a process that stops iron and steel from rusting. Somewhat surprisingly the
result is widely and wrongly known as tin - hence the tin baths that were kept outside in all
weathers and were filled with water when in use.
There were and still are many more examples. The photo is of part of a modern
galvanised lamp post.
Galvanised iron showing its typically blotchy appearance.
Galvanised iron is made by dipping the iron into hot
zinc. The size of the blotches depends on how quickly the cooling takes
Galvanised iron has a typically blotchy appearance as shown in the
Because of the development of plastics, fewer objects are galvanised
today, but in the past it was common - see for example the goods in
a typical old hardware shop.
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