coffee mill

Using my grandmother’s coffee mill is one of those beautiful, deeply satisfying physical experiences that grounds me in a long history. You love useful, well-made, elegant objects with their own stories too, I think. Being thoroughly doused in high technology on a daily level, I’m searching for more of the slower, sweeter, and often more material experiences of an earlier time. Integrating digital and analogue – emphasising really old experiences that engage my hands, my body, my senses, makes my life feel richer, more connected.

parker coffee mill.jpg

Daily use of an object that my beloved grandmother used, adds a dimension of meaning to my time that more of our belongings ought to possess. Her mill is all wood and metal, and requires nothing but an embrace and a firm turn of a handle. Can you imagine buying a machine to grind your coffee, made like this, now? There is a philosophy in its construction that feels very different from this age.

mills

The sound of coffee beans in the mechanism is intensely tangible. Without deafening electric motors, the crunching, crushing, toasted crackling sound is profound. It gets into my brain like a fine melody. Add the heady scent of the beans, and the act of preparing coffee becomes a ritual of exquisite anticipation.

milled coffee

Speed isn’t required, in this ritual. If anything, grinding a handful of beans is over too quickly. Everyone would have a go at milling, and opening the drawer to find a grind that is astonishingly perfect. Since 1923, this little mill has been turning, and having outlived my dear grandmother, I wonder if it will outlive all of us, too.

coffee mills

(You can still find these mills, and you can even get hold of vintage ads for the things, if you admire the typography and illustration, as I do.)

I made a short movie of the old coffee mill, and my sweetheart set it to music. I find it so sweet, I hope you like it too. My heart swells (and my coffee habit redoubles) when I hear him grinding beans to share a pot with me, and come in to see him hugging that mill as my grandfather might have, milling for my grandmother.

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p>(A fact. My father has another mill their family used for coffee. This one milled grains, instead, for an old fashioned, long-cooking porridge, kept warm in the feather coverlet. I remember eating it as a child, served to all the little cousins in the mornings with her homemade wild-picked blackberry jam and a splash of milk, in shallow, wide bowls. I wish I had the recipe.)

salmonberries

Cold, wet spring pushed the berry season back, so the salmonberries are abundant for early summer.

salmonberry picking, animation, © elisa rathje 2008

Rubus spectabilis. They glow ruby and golden all through the lush pacific forests. Our walks are slowed to a berrying pace. When we lived here I drew them, I think they are such luminous wild things. It pleases me that they’ve never really been cultivated. Some say that they are named for their resemblance to salmon eggs. An important first berry of the year to indigenous people here, they fruit just ahead of red huckleberries. I’d love to know more about wild plants here, if I am very fortunate I can persuade my herbalist friend to take us on a foraging walk. Wish me luck.

salmonberry picking, animation, © elisa rathje 2008

Salmonberries are a childhood food to me, and I’ve never grown into preserving them as I have many other foraged foods. Yet. I’ve heard that they make a delicate jam, wine, or liqueur, perhaps like their relation, rubus chamaemorus, the cloudberry. (Oh! I didn’t realise that the cloudberry grows in Canada! I always think of it as distinctly Northern European. We adore the Finnish Lakka liqueur.) We were astonished to find the pink florets blooming along a lake near our cottage in Sussex, and so had the unexpected pleasure of following my Canadian coastal childhood practice of plucking off the petals and sipping the nectar, like so many hummingbirds.

blackberry season

Farewell to our dear friends and family in Canada, to the summer and to blackberry season. I find the end of summer so bittersweet. We never preserved a single blackberry, they all went straight from the vine into little tummies.

blackberry

wild blackberries, digital drawing, 2004, elisa rathje

Now we are flying into the equinox, and looking forward to autumn. Cardigans and fingerless gloves, squash soup and apple pie, collecting leaves and settling back into sewing and knitting. How do you mark the change of seasons?