An Iron Maiden for vegetables?

23 Feb

A cucumber slicer from 1830, in the Museum of Sheffield's Millenium Gallery

Very quickly, I thought I might share this – I spent a weekend Up North a little while back and tweeted this photo, and since then I keep showing it to people as, for some reason, I’m absolutely mad about it.

This gadget – made, I’m told, from Sheffield Old Plate and found in the Millenium Gallery of the Museum of Sheffield – is a cucumber slicer. It’s simple to use, though any instructions I can give make it sound like a cross between Freud’s nightmares and an Iron Maiden for the torture of recalcitrant veg. So be it.

First, take your cucumber and push it into the slicer – the slightly terrifying spikes will hold it in place. Then, start turning the handle, which brings the cucumber into contact with the blade. Then take your perfectly even slices of cucumber and make yourself some sandwiches for afternoon tea, presumably denuded of crust by a similarly warlike apparatus.

The complex cultural, social, and culinary rules surrounding the construction of your cucumber sandwich are introduced in delightfully po-faced fashion here. If it is true that the cucumber was a nineteenth-century status symbol, that might go some way towards explaining the sheer beauty of an object like this slicer. I suspect a long-suffering cook might have preferred a good sharp knife…

Have you come across any other weird and wonderful kitchen equipment? I’d love to hear about it. This post was prompted in part by reading this nugget from Futility Closet about cutlery with an inbuilt mirror in the handle, allowing the diner to check his or her teeth discreetly during a meal.

A final thought: seeing an object like this – one where histories of food, of manners, of culture and society come together so clearly – is an inspiring reminder of what historians can get from the study of objects. Over the last year or two my eyes have been opened to the study of material and visual cultures, and I’m hoping this blog will give me a chance to push that interest a bit further. And, of course, to finish in time for tea.



3 Responses to “An Iron Maiden for vegetables?”

  1. traditionalfiddle February 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm #

    The Millennium Galleries in Sheffield have got some other great stuff, the soup spoon with a moustache protector, for example.

    • earlymodernjohn February 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

      A moustache protector? Amazing! As someone who managed to get soup in his beard over lunch, I feel modern design has left men like me behind.

      • traditionalfiddle February 23, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

        Every man needs a spoon like that. Coming from a city like Sheffield, you do see some wacky cutlery. I’d never noticed the cucumber slicer before though!

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