A flippin’ fantastic history of kitchenware

The modern kitchen is a collection of great designs and inventions, some ancient, some relatively modern, some accidental and some the result of a long list of minor discoveries. Flip these cards and find out about the history of some very common cooking tools!

1.     Kamado

Then: clay oven
The name ‘Kamado’ originates from the Japanese, who didn’t invent the cooking device, but did perfect it. The origins are a bit unclear, but most sources point back to ancient China, where the ‘cooking furnace’ was used to cook rice. The Japanese, looking for interesting technology, took a later version of this clay oven to develop further. Eventually, American soldiers got enthusiastic about this ‘Japanese closed barbecue’ and took it back to the States, where one of them started to import kamados to sell in America.


Now: kamado
Since the kamado was brought to market by an American soldier in 1974, the cooking device has been upgraded with a lid and a temperature meter. Even though its controls are quite basic, regulating temperature can be done very precisely. The shell is made of a special, very finely structured ceramic mix, which reflects the heat well and doesn’t absorb moisture. All these characteristics make this cooking device ideal for many cooking techniques, from slow cooking to baking.


2.     Double boiler

Then: water bath
A ‘bain-marie’ is translated to Mary’s bath, so the easy question here is: who the fluff is Mary? Well, the name giver of the method of heating food in a container in a water bath is Mary the Jewess. This Greek alchemist lived (according to Greek writer Zosimos of Panopolis) between the first and third century A.D. and is credited for the invention of multiple kinds of chemical equipment, among which the water bath or heated bath.


Now: double boiler

Nowadays going by the French name, a ‘bain-marie’ is the multipurpose water bath that can be used for anything from keeping food warm to slowly cooking desserts or melting chocolate. The device that includes a double layer, which can be used to cook au bain-marie in a closed compartment, is the double boiler. Basically, it’s just like the ancient method (and the MacGyver-method), the only difference being that it’s slightly more… contained.


3.     Cheese slicer

Then: knife 
From a soft cheese knife - the one with the holes – to the narrow plane knife, the slim blade, the rind cutter, or the pronged cheese knife: cheese used to be, and still is cut with a knife. However, for even slices, you couldn’t just get there with a knife alone. You would also need very steady hand, as there were no tools that would get you neat, even slices. Until 1925, that is.


Now: cheese slicer

The cheese slicer was invented in Norway and for good reason: they have a rich history in woodworking. The cheese slicer (or in Norwegian: Ostehøvel) was invented by Thor Bjørklund, because he was frustrated with his uneven slices of cheese. As Bjørklund was a cabinet maker himself, he based his design on that of a carpenter’s plane. Instead of shaved wood, his new tool gave him - and the rest of the world - his highly desired, evenly sliced cheese.


4.     Microwave

Then: radar technology
Secretly developed for the military, radar transmits electromagnetic waves and receives them back to determine a location. During World War II, a huge discovery led to the ‘cavity magnetron’, a component that could be used in short wavelength radar. It allowed for much smaller radar systems and, eventually, became the catalyst for the use of radar technology in a famous foodservice device…


Now: microwave

Strictly speaking, this cooking device should more properly be named ‘microwave-box’, as inside, the small wavelength electromagnetic waves heating your food are the microwaves. The heating effect of these waves was discovered by Percy Spencer, who accidentally melted a chocolate bar he had in his pocket while working on a radar set. It took a while to take off, as the first microwaves were way too big and expensive. Nowadays, however, it’s among the most common kitchen appliances.


5.     Toaster

Then: hearth toaster
Long before the toasters, people used to prolong the shelf life of bread by toasting it over fire. Shortly before toasters, people used a toasting fork, or a little fancier: a hearth toaster of wrought iron. The problem with a toaster had always been the heating element, that couldn’t handle being red hot all the time, over and over again. American engineer Albert Marsh solved the issue of metal becoming brittle, by inventing the alloy of nickel and chromium, leading the way for the electric toaster.


Now: toaster

It’s funny, how some of the best inventions come from laziness. The first commercial toaster, the General Electric D-12, could toast one side of a slice of bread at a time. However, toast often got burned because people simply forgot to turn or take out the bread. Lloyd Groff Copeman invented the bread turner in 1913, and Charles Strite followed up with the pop-up ejection in 1921. This all led to the Toastmaster, the first toaster that could heat on both sides simultaneously, on a timer, with ejection of the toast at the end!


6.     Corkscrew

Then: gun worm
Now used to get a stuck cork out, the history of a corkscrew can be found on the battlefield. In the 1600’s, a device called a gun worm was used to clear unused (or failed) bullets and wadding from the barrel of a musket. The double helix on this ‘device’ ends in sharp points, and next to being used for extraction, the device could also hold a cloth to clean the barrel. 


Now: corkscrew

The first official patent of a corkscrew, with a single worm and a handle, seems to date back to 1795 and was deposited by the English reverend Samuel Henshall. Multiple patents were then filed, for instance on the double winged corkscrew. The sommelier knife was patented in 1882, by the German Karl Wienke. Over the years ‘Wienke’ got a little lost in translation, so that’s why nowadays a sommelier knife is also called a wine key!


7.     Refrigerator

Then: icehouse
Before the refrigerator existed, people used icehouses for cool storage. These storages were out in nature, near lakes or packed with ice and snow during winter. Historically, ancient civilizations used cut ice and, in warmer areas, stored snow in pits with insulation. And, if a cool place couldn’t be found on land, people even stored their food under water! 


Now: Refrigerator

In 1755, Scotsman William Cullen designed the first artificial refrigerator, which purely involved the principle of cooling and couldn’t be used for storage. Modern refrigerators rely on a similar principle: using a cycle that involves compressing (releasing warmth on the outside) and evaporating gas (cooling on the inside). But, before we ended up where we are now, many inventors helped to go from ice-making-machines to cooling closets. And, we have breweries to thank for making the refrigerator popular, as by 1900 they all had refrigerators, just before they were considered essentials at home from around 1920. And we couldn’t imagine the professional kitchen without one either!