When I was a kid, my Mum’s kitchen cupboards were my playground. Forget a toy kitchen with fake plastic utensils, I had free reign of the real thing. The old pasta machine in its faded box, the enormous cake tins used only once a year for a big birthday party and the ‘chicken brick’ a terracotta chicken-shaped roasting dish straight out of the seventies all lived inside enormous cupboards that went as high as the ceiling. A collector of curious kitchen items, my Mum amassed these objects for occasions. We had the monster-shaped popcorn machine on the kitchen counter when friends came around for sleepovers that she delighted us with as the popcorn spewed out of its mouth and the spinning antique Chinese tray that she filled with chocolates at Christmas that I never laid eyes on after each December.
Even though we moved countries a lot when I was young, I think it was keeping things like this that made my Mum feel close to home. Dishes cooked in the same way, stirred with the same wooden spoon meant that food tasted the same even if the kitchen was different. Weekends were spent in markets, holidays were an excuse to find beautiful things and like magpies, my parents were not averse to picking up furniture or paintings from the side of the road and strapping them to the roof of our car. I’m not a minimalist by any sense of the word, as I was brought up with the 'more is more' and ‘buy it because it’s beautiful’ mentality to make a space feel like a home and a kitchen feel like a space you want to cook.
My habit of buying kitchen things that I truly don't need is fed by both my Mum’s habits and living next to the holy trinity of charity shops in London. I live around the corner from some of the cities’ best charity shops that are filled with kitchenware, tableware and all the useless accoutrements you could desire to cook with. Amongst the endless ramekins (upon an extensive study I’ve decided these are the most donated item), badly decorated mugs, novelty plates and chipped plates are items that I have to enforce all my willpower to not carry home with me. I’d like to say that I have the strength to resist, but if you looked inside my kitchen cupboards, you’d know that to be untrue. When I have to walk to the supermarket, I have to take a long way around so I don’t walk past the charity shops and come home with something lovely, but useless. All too often am I tempted by another set of martini glasses, an onion-shaped bowl for
onion soup, a ceramic pie dish for a lemon meringue pie with the recipe hand painted inside and once or twice, I’ve even brought a ramekin home in the hopes of one day, making a souffle.
Due to this, I’ve filled my own crazy kitchen cupboards much to my boyfriend’s chagrin. Each item treasured and bought with the perfect thing to cook in mind. I found a heart-shaped melon baller that I use for heart-shaped butter balls when I’m feeling fancy which I carried home from Paris terrified that it would be taken off me by Eurostar security for being a weapon. I have made heart-shaped butter exactly once since getting off that train and it’s never met a melon.
When I catch a glimpse of it in my drawer, I tell myself that maybe tomorrow is the day for a heart-shaped cantaloupe salad and Google ‘what can I use a melon-baller for’ and spend the minutes before I drift of to sleep thinking about a bowl of green and white heart-shaped melon balls chilled on ice. But I know that even if I never use it again, it will never leave my kitchen. The same applies to the antique icing pump from a junk shop in Helsinki, the waffle iron that’s been turned on twice in ten years and the olive pitter that’s too annoying to use let alone clean. When spring rolls around each year and ‘decluttering’ columns fill our newspapers, I feel the temptation to just cull everything and keep the essentials but the second I see the hand-painted pizza plates I only use when we order a takeaway pizza, I shudder at the thought of losing them.
Not to be all Marie Kondo about it, but even if I use all of these items once in a blue moon, they all bring me joy. There is a future version of me that will need the waffle iron to feed a table for ten, the delicate gold-lined tea set from a flea market in Copenhagen will set the scene for an afternoon tea with friends and I know that lobster-shaped cookie cutter will cut the pastry for the top of a very decadent lobster filled fish pie one day. Not having occasions to use things shouldn’t stop you from dreaming, they’re what fuels my dreaming and for me, that’s the most fun I have in the kitchen. So take this as permission to buy the useless things you can only cook one specific dish with. Keep a salmon kettle under your bed if you find one for a fiver because one day when you’re staring at a whole salmon in your kitchen, maybe you’ll wish you had one.