On mayonnaise and coming full circle


A word written on a piece of paper and stapled somewhere on my “Do this” wall.

Sometimes I feel like I should turn in my Writer card when I don’t sit down at the keyboard and open a vein on a regular basis. I mean, it’s not like I’m not writing press releases for clients or publicity for one of my nonprofit groups or answering emails every day.

I mean, my fingers still know which keys are where. It’s just that the whimsy is often put aside for practicality.

And then there’s that “what should I write about?” conundrum.

So today, I’m going to talk about the value of a mayonnaise knife.

I drive my kids crazy. They say I keep too much stuff (but have never accused me of being a hoarder), which I defend by using the sentimental value tactic.

Memories come in all shapes and sizes

My kitchen counter is crammed with essentials, including three crocks holding utensils – spoons, strainers, whisks, tongs, skewers, ladles, spatulas – and one crock specifically for knives. All of them are very crowded, especially the knife one.

My kids went through the knife crock not too long ago and asked why I was holding on to knives that had cracked, weathered handles. There is one knife that they wanted to throw away, since it doesn’t cut very well any more. They urged me to simplify with better, stronger cutlery.

I countered that my mom used to make sandwiches using that knife. It’s more than 60 years old, as dull as butter and shows its age with a handle so bleached it’s nearly white, but it fits in my hand perfectly when I’m making sandwiches and spreading the condiments. The strength of the blade and its response when I’m using it to frost a cake or get the mayonnaise to every corner of the bread has a good, familiar feel.

I still hear my mom’s voice from long ago, when we’d be standing at the cutting board and making lunch. When I would be applying mustard and mayo to a creation, she’d advise “use twice as much of this” (meaning mustard) “and only half of that” (mayo). Nutritional guidance at the hands of utensils, offered with love.

There are other items in my too-shallow kitchen drawers (don’t believe the home improvement store when they sell you the standard kit, they’re NEVER deep enough) that open the memory floodgates. The pie server with the etched vines and the yellow and red-checkered handle – I see it holding my dad’s favorite, apple pie. The crazy whisk that looks like a spring gone bad at the end of a metal stick that my mom told me to bounce up and down when I helped beat the eggs to make French toast. The long metal spatula that reaches further and is my go-to tool when something sticks. Yup. Mom’s.

It bothers me that I lost the knife my grandmother used to teach me how to pit an apricot using only one hand. She could do it standing on a rickety ladder in the orchard. I try with newer, sharper models, with mixed results, standing in the safety of my kitchen.

I do visit foodie Nirvanas like William-Sonoma and Sur le Table and enjoy perusing the fancy new “must haves” that our kids take for granted. But those new blades or peelers or scoops just don’t bring back the mirepoix of my youth, the foundation on which I built my kitchen skills and those fleeting moments when I remember from where I came.

Another thing about that knife: we lived on a main road into what used to be a small town in Northern California. Transients (called “hobos” in those days) would mark the trees in our orchard because they knew my mother would always make them a sandwich. Guess which knife she used? Her belief was that no one should go to sleep hungry. I work with our local food pantry to make sure that doesn’t happen here. And when my kids lived at home, their friends knew that all were welcome for Sunday dinner. Still are. Mom taught me well.

Consistency. Like the home-cooked meals I make for family and friends. I’ll work on that.

2 thoughts on “On mayonnaise and coming full circle

  1. Nice ‘remember-when’ piece. 🙂 We only have two crocks of “tools”, (most of) the knives are in a wooden block. Thanx for a new/old word. Now I’m off to research mirepoix. 😯


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