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As people plan their Thanksgiving meals, it’s likely many of them are planning to use their favorite cooking tools to whip up and serve the perfect Turkey Day meal. For Thanksgiving cooks and hosts, digging up heirloom china or using a preferred spoon, knife, or whisk is as much a part of the holiday as mashed potatoes and gravy. But what do cooking utensils mean? David Sutton and Michael Hernandez explore cooking utensils as “inalienable possessions” that embody individual and family memories.

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Since utensils are both given and kept, write Sutton and Hernandez, they “come to be storehouses of memories which help tell stories of people’s lives.” By fetishizing, for example, Grandma’s precious Pyrex bowls or our favorite wooden spoon, we develop long-term relationships with the things in our kitchens.

Sutton and Hernandez researched everyday cooking tools in Greece and Southern Illinois, studying how kitchen utensils were talked about, used, and stored. Sutton interviewed a dozen participants in Kalymnos, Greece, while Hernandez interviewed individuals in Illinois, even watching them prepare meals. They spoke with people about cast-iron skillets, French cooking knives, and rolling pins. Each object discussed had its own history and life which was in turn inextricably wound together with the history and life of its owner—and, often, older generations.

In each interview, Sutton and Hernandez found that kitchen objects “materialize present or absent social and sensory relations and regimes.” By embodying relationships like those between mothers and sons or friends, cooking implements become extensions of individuals and families.

Like their owners, cooking utensils age over time, embodying both the aging process and prior cooking successes. “In all of these respects,” they write, “tools have the potential to become voices in the kitchen, speaking to us of other times and places as they go about the business of preparing our daily fare.”


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Oral History, Vol. 35, No. 2, Conflicts and Continuity (Autumn, 2007), pp. 67-76
Oral History Society