I SPOTTED a survey earlier this week which listed the ten most under-used household gadgets to be found in kitchens in the United Kingdom. It had been carried out by an insurance group who wanted to know what people were spending their money on and then not using. I don't know why they wanted to know, but possibly it was so they could refuse to pay out if any of the items listed were stolen or destroyed on the grounds that their owners never used them in the first place so why should they get a new one on the insurance money. Actually, they didn't need to do a survey, they could have saved some of their profits and just given me a call. Because I could have told them immediately what the number one under-used gadget was. And lo and behold my answer would have been the same as the survey's conclusion. A sandwich toaster. It would, I think, be easier to count the number of people who haven't got a sandwich toaster tucked away somewhere than to count those who have or had one. Surprisingly, this isn't a new innovation, it's been around for a long time, so a couple of generation of people have continued the tradition of buying one and then not getting round to using it very often. On the face of it the idea of a sandwich toaster is a good idea. Toasted sandwiches are a tasty and healthy snack. Probably imported from America, they became all the rage in the sixties and seventies when pubs added them to their snack menus. So the next step was obviously to get a gadget which did the job, rather than having to do it under the grill, where a charred sandwich was a distinct possibility. So out we all went and bought a toaster, rushing home to get it heated up and extract our first perfect sandwich. And perfect they were. Neat little triangles of browned but not blackened toast containing the filling. What's more the gadget came with a recipe book extolling the virtues of the toasted sandwich and suggesting novel ways of using it for both sweet and savoury sandwiches. Success on a plate, you would think. But the clues as to why so many of the gadgets lie unused and unloved emerged early. Firstly, the recipes. For a successful toasted sandwich you need something that melts, ie cheese. Just plain ham or cold meat won't do, it will just make a rather unappetising dry sandwich. Neither can you use green salad ingredients, or any dressing which might make the sandwich soggy. Some cheeses won't melt either. Sweet ingredients don't bear thinking about. So you were usually left with cheese, probably Cheddar, and additions of ham, onions, tomatoes and a few other savoury things. Nothing wrong with that, it's an updated version of that most comforting of snacks, cheese on toast. But when you extracted your little triangles of perfectly toasted sandwiches you discovered that far from being warm they contained cheese which had turned into molten lava and after serving them to unsuspecting children you had to rush in and yell a warning before they took a bite. Many a child ignored this example of 'mother knows best' and you then had to calm a shrieking offspring with a badly burnt mouth. Incidentally, talking of mother knows best, or in this case, grandma knows best, my grandson was warned by me last night that taking a bite out of a red chilli pepper wouldn't be a good idea. He loves to eat raw sweet peppers, especially the long curved red ones, so he grinned at me and ignored the warning, took a nibble and chewed it up with apparent satisfaction. Seconds later he leapt across the kitchen, jumped onto the draining board and held his mouth under a running tap for quite a long time. Grandma forebear saying 'told you so', although it was tempting. But back to the toaster. Once you had made your sandwiches you discovered that although you had been extra careful positioning the ingredients in the sandwich some of it inevitably escaped and ran over the side and burnt, making the toaster very difficult to clean when cold and impossible to hold and clean when still warm. Telling everyone that any food poisoning bacteria would 'burn off' didn't go down too well and eventually you dumped the thing in a cupboard and went back to the grill. Time heals, and some of us forgot the snags and re-bought another machine, I even got one free when I bought a kettle and a conventional toaster together. We now have one shaped like a pig, which was last used about six months ago to burn someone's mouth with a mozzarella and plum tomato sandwich and is now back on the shelf. Also on the list was an electric bread knife, a bread maker and a coffee machine, along with various other 'essentials'. I can understand the bread maker, which you quickly discover only makes one tiny loaf which the family eats in seconds clamped round the Cheddar, and the bread knife, which seems silly when an ordinary bread knife works just as well and just as quick. Smoothie The coffee machine I think is arguable if you like real coffee, although I find a plastic filter with a paper filter inside sitting on top of the cup or a jug works just as well and needs less cleaning. To the list I would add all machines which take longer to clean than to do the job by hand in the first place. These must include the latest gadget, a smoothie maker, which I bought at Christmas for the children and which does indeed make lovely fruity drinks but which has lots of bits and pieces to clean afterwards, and getting ground up banana or apple off a glass jug when it has dried to pebble dash is not easy. Although I think women are more likely to buy gadgets than men, and like nice up-to-date ones in the latest design style (or gadgets which do the same job as your old one did but your old one is in last year's colour). Men are not immune. My husband once bought me a bacon slicer, which he assured me would produce nice even slices of bacon at the thickness we wanted them. He didn't think of the snag, which was that you had to get hold of unsliced bacon, even then not easy, and that the machine may have sliced most of it neatly but you always finished up with a bit of bacon four inches thick because the machine couldn't cope with the end bit. He also came home one day with the miracle potato skin remover which was alleged to take the skin off even tough potatoes and did, if you had the handle turning ability of Guy the Gorilla and didn't mind potatoes which looked as if they had been rasped all over with a particularly rough piece of sandpaper. This was soon consigned to the same fate as the miracle runner bean string remover which removed so much of the string that all you were left with was a quarter of an inch of the centre of the bean, so that a pound of beans yielded about two ounces of edible vegetable. I'm surprised that the survey stuck to the kitchen, there are many other under-used gadgets in other parts of the house, such as the ear wax remover, the nasal hair clipper and the I don't want to know any more about it electric blackhead remover for those who presumably have electric blackheads. I'm not anti all gadgets, to be truthful I love them. I would nominate the best ever kitchen gadget as being the food processor, which has taken the hard work out of so many jobs and is eternally useful. Some cooks decry it saying food tastes better when prepared by hand but they are talking out of their bouef en croute. Two more things. Firstly Caradon has just started some kind of parking card scheme which sounds great until you note that by buying one you will save a massive ten pence on two pounds worth of parking. Hardly worth the room in your wallet another card will take up. Regarding parking cards, someone pointed out to me that a system for these cards had already been set up by the county. Called the Cornish Key Card it acts as library card, half price on buses in Cornwall card and for an experimental parking scheme in some Cornish car parks. I've got one, and use it as a library card; but what happened to the much heralded lower price parking for residents scheme which was in operation in some places? Saltash being one of them. And why does Caradon have to start a new scheme when one is already in place? Another case of the ratepayers' bottomless pit I suppose. Secondly, a Mr Browning from Looe has written with another possible answer as to why there is an area called Porcupine in the exotic location of St Blazey Gate. He was told some time ago that it is derived from Port Cupine, which reflected that at one time barges could navigate inland that far. Any more readers with any more interesting snippets of local history are welcome to write in.
Thursday 30th September 2004 10:00 pm