Downton Abbey Mixes It Up


I am no stranger to lusting after a kitchen utility, most recently and especially, a KitchenAid stand mixer. My desire for this mother of all mixers was kept in check because financing such an extreme upgrade just wasn’t possible. Surgery on my right hand changed that.

With a weakened wrist and damaged dumb joint curtailing all baking production, my husband, for whom a home without cookies is somebody else’s house, bought me a helpmate:

ka buttercup_ (Medium)

It’s weird to be in love with an appliance, but head over heels am I for “Daffodil,” my very own KA artisan. Had I understood how life changing this mixer can be to even a modest cook, I’d have ruined my hand years ago.

For last Sunday’s premiere of the new season of Downton Abbey, Daffy turned out a scrumptious crust that served as the base for a salmon quiche, which we ate while watching the show. The crust was delectable, so delicious it merited mewing, and we’re dog people.

As I was scraping minuets of crust to the fork’s tines so as not to leave a crumb on the plate, Daisy of Downton was unboxing an electrical hand mixer.  Her excitement for a convenience that would make her life as a kitchen apprentice easier and more enjoyable was adorably portrayed, although not shared by her mentor, who would be just fine, thank-you-very-much, with her trusty rotary hand beater.

Having labored with the old way of mixing a batter or whipping cream, Daisy was intrigued by the electric gadgetry. Reading the instruction manual, she immediately applied the new technology to the evening’s dessert – a whipped confection that was ready in minutes, not hours.

Raised with every conceivable household convenience, modern women watching the show would have a hard time imagining the effect electrical kitchen utilities had on women of earlier times. Having just experienced a personal domestic hallelujah, I totally felt Daisy’s spirits lift at the wonder of a single invention.

Curious as to what other kitchen inventions were changing the landscape of the 1920s’ cook, I looked through my cache of old magazines.

From early editions of Woman’s World and Modern Priscilla, we were giddy for

kitchen utilities 1920s

a metal slanted grater, waffle iron cleaner, date pitter, combination measuring and sifting cup, extending casserole holder, jar opener, can opener, crank food grater, rolling pin cover and a drip coffee maker.

kitchen utilities 11920s 2

And what a surprise to turn the pages of an early 1920s issue of American Cookery and find an advertisement for the mixer that so enthralled Daisy:

Elec Mixer 1920s ad

And to turn the page again, to the mixer that ninety years later, so enthralled me!

mixer_KA 1920s ad

The price of the KitchenAid isn’t revealed in the ad, but it figures it was in line with an electric vacuum cleaner costing $39.00, which in today’s dollars is $415.00.

A four hundred dollar investment in a kitchen utility is significant by any standard, but Daisy and I both know the cost of our domestic happiness is priceless.

Hot Pads a Haute Collectible

I’ve been compiling information on the hot pad, a/k/a potholder, pan gripper, and handle hugger. Surprisingly, this little domestic helpmate has quite the extensive history.

From amongst the bins of booklets and instructional manuals that I’ve accumulated is this one from the 1940s, which advertises a two-page spread of GAY AND AMUSING TOWELS AND POT HOLDERS FOR THE KITCHEN. On the cover, below the word Needlework, you can see a towel and matching potholder, both embroidered “glasses.” The toweling makes sense, but on a hotpad? I figure this had to be the work of a male graphic artist.

The booklet isn’t dated, but the designs help to narrow the time frame (patriotic, so the war is still on) and the women illustrated have Betty Grable hair dos.

From a 1932 Nebraska Farmer (always knew there was a reason I bought a year’s worth of this publication!), oilcloth is the new and exciting choice for construction of hotpads and a matching holder. What’s difficult to see in this photo is the coordinating oilcloth covering for the salt box. Women of the era were often applying domestic artistry to the most mundane objects, however I think covering the salt with a washable cover pure genius. Makes me think of doing something similar for an olive oil jar.

I don’t have a date yet for this hotpad project, although from aprons, I know that tinted, stamped patterns were popular in the Twenties. This project was started but not completed – given the simplicity, it may have been used to teach a girl her embroidery stitches.
This photo of Virginia Downs, mother of Earl Downs, graces the introduction to The Kitchen Linens Book. It’s capitivated me from the second I first saw it, so detailed, it could be something out of a Smithsonian exhibit. Everything is within her reach – dishtoweling on the hanger, hot pads hanging from hooks above the stove. Everytime I examine this picture, I see something new.
Like vintage aprons, hot pads are a fun collectible because the variety in design and make-up is endless. I’d venture they’re so available because the time commitment (unlike constructing a quilt or knitting a sweater) is minimal, which led women to make a lot of hot pads. Unique storage is also fun to collect – like this little rolling pin with a crochet covering. The hooks were painted a bright yellow, which is an artistic touch if ever there was one! The little pin and pads are resting on a rectangle that’s of metal, which protected a counter surface from a hot pan or pot.

I’ve pitched a piece on hot pads to a perfectly suited national magazine, and so far haven’t heard word one. To me, an article on the history of the hot pad plus vibrant photograpy would make great reading. Just need to find the right home for it. And be patient.
Off on a bit of apron journeying to New Mexico!
Tie One On…an apron, of course!

a Domestic Archive

When I first set about writing The Kitchen Linens Book, I called friends who were into antiques, hoping at least a few were also enamored of vintage household cloth.  My dear friend, Jan Means, was a Bingo!  Within a week or so, a box arrived with a selection of exquisite family heirlooms, and this set of DOW (days of the week) towels

To see this set in person is to experience the true definition of adorable. I immediately wished I’d discovered “Cherubs” first, so I might own the set; instead, I immediately broke a commandment and coveted my friend/neighbor’s possession. I kept the set so long, Jan was forced to delicately question if I was ever returning them, which I did with much reluctance. 

Seven or so months later, I contacted Colonial Patterns/Aunt Martha’s about my use of the company’s vintage reproduction dishtoweling as the basis for my apron-ology magazine apron design. Kindness itself, vp Chris Price not only provided the toweling but also a bundle of Aunt Martha’s transfers, among which was this one!

Correctly titled Busy Babies (not Cherubs as I’m still inclined to do), the popular design has been around a very long time, and as with all the Aunt Martha packaging graphics, the original art work for BB resides in a vault at company headquarters.  Oh, to see this cache of original packets in person!  
Before computers and graphic design programs like photoshop, art was drawn and colored by hand. And therein lies the true value of the old pattern envelopes, early primers like the Dick and Jane series, calendars and transfer packets.  Simplistic in presentation and without the manipulation of today’s graphics, the drawings are a part of our colorful domestic history.  
Tie One On…an apron, of course!