Following my admittedly quirky obsession for more than 30 years, I have accumulated a collection of more than 500 antique kitchen utensils out of passion for their beauty and curiosity about what was going on in homes and the world when they were used. I spent many years of days with the late writer about life and food, M.F.K. Fisher, for whom place and context were always important.
Part of my collection will be featured as an 8-page spread in the Fall issue of Culture: The Word on Cheese, a national glossy magazine popular among cheese fans everywhere. The 8-page photo essay covers my more than 70 cheese graters that range from some made in England in the late 1800s to some made yesterday in the shape of bright green frogs.
After all, I cut classes at the Sorbonne to audit and hang out with chefs at the Cordon Bleu in Paris.
I started to hunt and haunt little antique shops in California’s Gold Country and along the Pacific Coast when my husband, Gerald Hill, and I were first married and had to travel on the cheap and close to home. I rationalized that I was buying old kitchen utensils to give to my mother, Emily McKelligon Thompson, an artist and interior designer. We all give others things we really want, deep down, right?
The kitchen utensils found their way back to me and I started my own collection, beginning with a $3 limit on each piece. Now I think I’m up to $8. Seeking and collecting has been a very private obsession.
When I found a cracker tin printed in French and English at a British Columbia antique sale, it sent me off on another tangent. I now have them in Arabic, Tagalog, French, Dutch and English. Other gems in my collection come from Germany, France, Scotland, England, Italy and Mexico, and of course the USA.
The Kathleen Thompson Hill Culinary Collection includes everything from historic mashers and toasters to egg beaters, whisks, colanders, choppers, flour sifters and scoops, spatulas, ladles, spoons, butter paddles, egg cookers, rolling pins, ricers, food mills, meat grinders, juicers, and cracker tins, and table top stoves, all spanning 200 years. Each display comes with retro recipes that both reflect the period when utensils were made and adapt those dishes to current methods.
Everywhere the collection has been displayed it attracts food fans of all ages who love to reminisce, saying “Oh – my grandfather used to grate cheese on the Sunday ravioli with one of those” or “My grandmother had one of those and wouldn’t let me touch it. Can I get one now?”
My quirky obsession continues to take me near and far. You may see me in your neighborhood soon, always searching for additions to my culinary collection.
Kathleen Thompson Hill is the Food & Wine Editor of the Sonoma Index Tribune and Sonoma Magazine, food & travel correspondent for the Boston Globe, foodcaster on A Million Cooks and an award-winning professor of American government and politics. She has authored and co-authored 30 books with husband and historian Gerald Hill; together they have written a series of guidebooks to wine regions of the west coast. Visit KTHill.com to learn more about Kathleen.