In A Kitchen With Oddities & Rarities

Last month S and I tackled sorting out kitchen cupboards and drawers. It is amazing what accumulates over decades as successive people have lived here in this house, leaving things for communal use. Most of the utensils, jars, boxes, dishes, etc. have been sorted, housed rationally (or at least rational to me) and some even re-allocated to the bin. The latter being things like broken utensils, out of date dry goods, very black burnt wooden spoons and “mystery” packets that have lost their labels and contents not recognisable.

kitchen_drawers

Among the multitude of objects, here were a few noteworthy things and interesting surprises. The first surprise, clearly unknown to S, was a wooden stick with a carved head that looked like a thistle. Luckily, I knew exactly what this was thanks to Anne @ Mud Splattered Boots from her February 2015 IMK post. What we discovered in this Greek kitchen was a Scottish spurtle.

spurtle

Who knows who brought this object here, but I was thrilled to have discovered it. I doubt that I will make use of it as there is little call for stirring old-fashioned oatmeal in this kitchen, particularly since the slow-cooking pinhead oatmeal is something not usually found on Greek supermarket shelves. However, I did find a small packet of Quaker oats, but I think it will be best deployed making Sandra’s @ Please Pass the Recipe nutty oat cakes.

greek_oats

Paint brushes in the utensil drawer were explained to me as essential kitchen tools. S has a very practical approach to brushing oil on large sheets of phyllo pastry when she makes enormous pies with different size paint brushes dedicated to this purpose. It seemed odd to me initially, but after thinking about it and seeing how well they worked, I may adopt this use of paint brushes in my kitchen back in the UK.

phyllo_brushes

Another oddity, which actually turned out to be a rarity was a jar of Arbutus Honey. It was unopened and the stamped expiration date indicated it was still usable. Of course, we tasted it. It had its own unique taste, although S thought it was like pekmezi while I thought it was more like molasses. Amazing how our cultural backgrounds affect our taste buds. Or would that be taste memories?

arbutus_honey

Arbutus honey, also known as a “bitter honey”, comes from only a few places around the Mediterranean – notably Portugal, Italy and Greece. Bees sup from the blossoms of the Arbutus tree/shrub, more commonly known as the strawberry tree. In Portugal we have tasted a distilled local firewater made from the strawberry tree fruits called medronho, from the Portuguese name for the tree. I am also told they make a similar alcohol in Albania. But, unlike the firewater, Arbutus honey is thought to be healthy with the greatest number of antioxidants found in all sorts of honeys. I wondered how to use it and decided that I could baked with it as one would with either pekmezi or molasses. First experiment was a batch of delicious arbutus honey sugar cookies. Nice and spicy, almost gingerbread – made as a nod to Guy Fawkes Night (AKA Bonfire Night) when we eat Parkin back in Yorkshire. Next up – Arbutus honey cake, passable as gingerbread?

arbutus_honey_spice_cookies

Another big job was sorting through the mishmash of china sets, counting place settings and deciding what can be used together like mix and match. It comes as no surprise that in this British institution we found that the majority of sets are good British china. My favourite is the Wedgewood bone china with the Florentine pattern. In the midst of the acanthus leaf scrolls and rather fierce looking dragons are Minoan-style bull heads. I thought it quite appropriate for an institution that lists Cretan archaeology among one of its many activities.

florentine_motif_wedgewood

However, among the bone chine lurked copycat ironstone – “Sarasen” pattern produced by an English company called Wood & Sons. Notice the bull’s head has been replaced by an urn. Sadly, neither the bone china nor the ironstone are made any longer, making them both a bit of a rarity.

sarasen_stoneware

The “company” flatware is worn silverplate, or rather electroplate, stamped with the mark “Harrods”. The more extended mark on the stainless steel blades of the knives being more explicit – Harrods Ltd. of Knights Bridge, the famous shop in London. A little internet searching gave be a potted history. They were probably produced in the northern manufacturing centres – either Sheffield or Birmingham – exclusively for the store in London. Other marks on the spoon and knife handles give clues – A1 indicates it us made from the best quality materials, and the L & O the mark of the specific manufacturer, of which I have not been able to track down, but likely a Sheffield based firm according to some sources. The marks on the knife, however, displays the initials JD which may stand for Johnson Durban & Co. that was operating in Birmingham between 1878-1952.

harrods_flatware

All in all, cleaning out of cupboards has given me a chance to do a bit of archaeology on the contents. Finding odd and rare “artefacts” has proven to be diverting, plus we now have an organised kitchen.

A monthly IMK (In My Kitchen) post. Check out the fabulous Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who lists all of us IMK bloggers, writing about what’s been happening in our kitchens each month. A chronological listing of my In My Kitchen blog posts can be found on a separate page, just click the link or look under the heading of Diaries in the Menu bar above.
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29 comments

  1. I love fossicking in other people’s drawers, especially when there are interesting finds. Definitely going to the hardware store next time I need a new pastry brush, such a sensible idea. Thanks for the link love, the walnut oatcakes are getting a lot of attention

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  2. This might be my favourite of your posts EVER! What fun. Regarding honey, apparently there is some mechanism in some honeys that make them able to transfer the medicine of the forage into the honey itself (like tea tree/ manuka) and that there is a local honey to us, in Aberhafesp, a teeny-tiny place. So very excited to learn about the Arbutus honey which I’d never heard of.

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  3. Funny thing is that when the next person moves into the house I’m renting inTuscany (if I ever leave), they too will find a spurtle. A Scottish friend gave it to me many years ago, and I use it here to make polenta (which means ‘porridge’). Perfect!

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    • That spurtle was a real find. You should have seen S’s incredulous expression when I tried to describe its use. Well, actually it was the images of kilt-clad men duelling with spurtles I found on the internet to illustrate my point. Using it to stir polenta is inspired.

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  4. I agree with those who called your finds treasures. I would have loved to have “helped” you. As I read your fascinating post, my mind kept wandering to 2 drawers in my kitchen, both in need of a serious clean-out. I know for a fact that I won’t find anything remotely as interesting as the articles you’ve just described. If there was, each would have been cleared years ago.

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  5. Oh how much fun you must have had digging through someone else’s trash and treasures. It seems you have a lot of kindred spirits as blog followers and I would be amongst them in saying it would’ve been so much fun to be a part of your dig and clean out. Who knew Greece had more than just a few ancient ruins as treasures to unearth. 🙂

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  6. What a fun dig or treasure hunt! So interesting to see what was in your kitchen inhabited by many people. In preparing for my new pantry coming in the kitchen I really should paint and clean out my kitchen, though I know I won’t find anything as interesting as you did.

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    • You never know what you will find when “digging” through pantries and kitchen drawers. I had fun looking through the cupboards here – amused, appalled, delighted, disgusted… a vast array of emotions experienced in the process.

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  7. Well who doesn’t have a few pieces of Harrod’s cutlery knocking around….? I loved your short piece on Arbutus honey. I have never heard of it so found it fascinating. Thanks for taking us on your artefact dig.

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    • I had never heard of Arbutus honey either! Amazing what you discover when you move to new places. There are still lots of specialist products that don’t travel widely or are well-known outside of small regional areas where they are produced. One of the pleasures of travelling is discovering these things!

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  8. I bet you would have had some fun doing this! I laughed at the oats packet, not sure why but Mr Quaker with the greek writing just seemed out of whack. I use paint brushes too, they are great and so much cheaper than pastry brushes. Love the cutlery, I’m searching for some similar ATM, I’m wanting bone handles on the knives, so if find a stash and need to relocate them………… Fascinating how the honey varies so much. 🙂

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    • Cleaning out those drawers and cupboards was definitely worthwhile, and occasionally interesting and/or amusing. I’m sure you can find similar cutlery. I saw some on ebay when researching it, though not sure how ebay works in Australia. Whatever the case, good luck in tracking down those bone handles.

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