In Praise of Simple Machines in the Kitchen

Back to basics with our morning joe. Photo © Liesl Clark

Simple machines in the kitchen and household are one of our secrets to living the pleasures of the simple life, decreasing our dependence upon electricity or fancy gadgets with many parts. The simple machine simply works. They’re the hand tools of old that we fall back on when modern conveniences break down, which they often do. Take the lever, for example. Pull a lever for mechanical advantage and you have the strength of Hercules.

When we arrived at Grammy’s Florida home with a 10-gallon bucket filled to overflowing with valencia oranges we had picked, I looked in her cupboard to find an electric citrus juicer.

Citrus Juicer. The plastic small appliance we can do without. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Great!” I thought, until I plugged the plastic thing in and found it didn’t work. Taking it apart to see if it needed a new fuse, etc. wasn’t something we had time for. So Grammy pulled out another juicer, the hand lever kind you pull down that squishes your halved oranges in seconds, and I knew she had found the better machine.

This beautiful, all stainless, citrus press is a thing of beauty. Photo © Liesl Clark

In minutes, we had lovely glasses of hand-lever-squeezed orange juice, all from the effort of a 10-year-old who wouldn’t relinquish the lever. I’m ready to invest in one now that I’ve discovered the joys of fresh squeezed, self-picked liquid gold. We currently use a ceramic citrus juicer at home which works really well, but the simple machine could cut our hand-rotating out completely, which makes sense for 4 cups of o.j. in the a.m.

Fresh OJ in seconds, and a lesson in simple machines. Photo © Liesl Clark

We’ve been on a mission, lately, to seek out these ingenious machines that provide mechanical advantage, putting force on an object like an orange with little effort. One-by-one, they’re replacing our small appliances.

Take the electric coffee grinder, for example. Nothing wakes up our household more abruptly than the sound of someone whirring coffee beans in an electric grinder. And when the electricity goes out, which it often does in winter on our Northwest island, we can’t have fresh ground coffee. Could we find an adequate coffee grinder that wouldn’t tap resources like electricity or fuel? I searched for months throughout the web and in antique shops for old-fashioned grinders and found some beautiful ones. But none got great reviews that I could trust and most wouldn’t grind the beans to espresso grade. I bought a camp-style one for my husband to take on his mountaineering expeditions. But it wouldn’t grind enough for a house full of groggy adults.

We then purchased a beautiful Persian grinder that also took ages to grind beans. We imagined in the warmth of some semi-arid desert, this grinder would fit nicely on the back of a camel but you’d need an hour or so each morning to get enough ground stuff for a decent cup of joe. It was promptly retired to pepper grinding.

Finally, we found a grinder that was the most simple design (by Stumptown) and can take a mason jar as its reservoir. This simple machine utilizes larger gears than the 2 grinders we had previously bought and it produces a fresh ground coffee perfect for my hubby’s stove-top espresso maker.

The best we could find, a modern version of an antique coffee grinder. Photo © Liesl Clark

Contrary to what Stumptown says on their website, my husband husband claims “it’s effortless” to grind the coffee. No workout, truly. And I can attest to the fact that it’s not too hard to grind your beans and it doesn’t take very long to produce the perfect grind for several cups of coffee and gives us peace-of-mind for power-free days at home. We use hand-grinder daily, in fact, power or no power.

Two minutes of grinding and you've got a fine espresso grind. Photo © Liesl Clark

Our toaster, too, is a simple camp stove version of placing your bread over your burner, because we’re on a mission to reduce our electric appliances so we can sustainably live off the grid. We haven’t owned a toaster for 5 years now and haven’t missed it one bit.

If you want to go caveman-style, you can even forgo your garlic press for a stone. Seriously, for us, the large pestle we brought back from Nepal is the best garlic crusher I’ve ever used.

So try your hand at using simple machines again. You’ll enjoy cutting back on your power dependence and feel like you truly earned that morning fix of java and o.j.

7 thoughts on “In Praise of Simple Machines in the Kitchen

  1. I’m actually surprised you hadn’t thought of one of these.

    I have one and they are BRILLIANT. Not only does it juice really well but you get loads of pulp in the drink. (You could strain it if you needed to). Not only that but if you have some woodsman ability you could even carve your own. And, because its made from wood, if/when it breaks you could simply throw it in the compost bin or burn it. Talk about ecologically sound?!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. MY low-tech appliance of choice is a mouli-mincer, capable of reducing any pile of lightly cooked vegetables to either a fine puree or a more chunky sauce. Turning the wheel, scraping down the veg. that escape the blades is very satisfying and not at all time consuming. And like Kalamain, I tend to prefer a reamer for juicing citrus fruits. The presses I’ve tried seem to leave so much juice behind. Though yes, the reamer does take longer.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love these handy gadgets. I found a dusty old German Zassenhaus coffee grinder at my dad’s house and asked if I could have it. They didn’t use it anymore so now I have it and I love it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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