So, why the fanfare for this humble item? We are reminded of the quote, “I am haunted by waters” by Norman Maclean from the ending of A River Runs Through It. We have been haunted by this nut grinder — not by it’s presence, but by its absence.
For years, we have followed the example of countless PBS and cable cooks who chopped nuts with a knife (not to mention wending our way through Martha Stewart’s Christmas Cookbook). Sure, it was quick and efficient, but not even our best Damascus steel could provide the tactile delight we felt turning the crank of this humble grinder. Walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and, we admit, the occasional cinnamon stick, fell through the tin chute and were transformed by circular tines into the nut gravel required for cookies and cheese balls. A culinary chipper-shredder.
Remember, we would say (sometimes out loud, more often just to ourselves)? Remember how fun it was to chop nuts with that old grinder? The one our great-grandmother bought at a Christmas Bazaar at the Methodist church and gifted to our mother. Yes, that one.
As Tim Burton once said, “Things that I grew up with stay with me. You start a certain way, and then you spend your whole life trying to find a certain simplicity that you had. It’s less about staying in childhood than keeping a certain spirit of seeing things in a different way.”
The problem was, of course, memory and its damned specificity. We scoured garage sales, estate sales, and antique malls. We found plenty of nut grinders — plastic ones, electric ones, hand pumped ones, but never that one that we remembered. It had to be that one or nothing.
Imagine, then, a Thanksgiving day as our family gathered. Imagine it was this year, for instance. Imagine, too, our mother who extends a brown bag with handles, brimming with colored tissue paper. Imagine setting this “hostess gift” on the counter and turning to baste the turkey, only to have your mother pick it up and hand it to you again. Imagine as she says, “Please open this now. I think you’ll be pleased.”
And imagine your childhood flooding your eyes and the back of your throat as you pull it from its nest.
It may not be the prettiest item. It may not be the latest and greatest in nut grinding technology. It not even be exactly the color and pattern, neither of which you remember. But the design, the glass bottom, and, of course, that little handle. It’s almost — but only almost — better than the memory of it.
Beware nuts of the world. Behold, the holy grail of nut grinders.