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.)

little miller

Now, if you’ve been following closely for a while, you might recall an antique grinder I acquired at a village shop near the cottage we once lived in. I have great affection for the mill, and for cooking with my family in that old kitchen, so I made a little something with some images I came across the other day.

Simple pleasures.

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p>(If you’re fond of short appleturnover movies like the little miller, you might like to nose around the old schoolhouse. Along the lefthand side of the page, you’ll find it.)

spice mill

As I was exploring theme and variation, the way I like to, this time on the subject of panna cotta (elderflower panna cotta, vanilla panna cotta, chocolate panna cotta…) I came across a great old kitchen tool belonging to my grandmother. Her old spice mill! A simple, practically unbreakable and good old fashioned solution to fresh spices. Many people wouldn’t accept anything less than grinding their own fresh coffee; I’m quite sure my grandmother felt the same about grinding spices.

old fashioned spice mill

The scent of cardamom that would’ve dominated this piece, through all my grandmother’s Finnish baking, is renewed by my experiment in coconut cardamom panna cotta. On an early spring cleanse, we couldn’t take any dairy, so I substituted with coconut milk. Did you see the original recipe?

grinding cardamom

This piece adjusts for a course or rough grind, like any good pepper mill worth its, well, salt. Not much to it, yet it will still be grinding long after I’m gone, no doubt. I’m inclined to purchase future spices to store whole, as they’ll keep their freshness far longer. Grinding spices is quite satisfying.

coconut cardamom panna cotta

Gorgeous. Who needs cake? If you’d prefer this treat in chocolate form, you can still catch the recipe in appleturnover’s spring letter.

grinder

Like the bellows, the galvanised bucket, the snips, I often find the best tools are the simplest, strongest, most charming, and can be had for a song if you know where to look. I was ever so pleased to come across an antique grinder in a village shop, and knew it would be worth its weight in, well, breadcrumbs.

antique grinder © elisa rathje 2012

When I was a child one of my chores was to grind the dry crusts of bread into crumbs for this recipe or that. When the paper bag was full of crust, my mother would tighten the mincer onto the counter, and we’d cover the floor in breadcrumbs, turning and grinding. Excellent and useful tool, not only because it is almost entirely metal and likely will never break, not only for the economy of using up those crusts; but for people who suffer from food sensitivities, it is nearly impossible to find good organic, wheat-free breadcrumbs!

antique grinder © elisa rathje 2012

Of course, this is a mincer, for ground meat, and though the thought of the process does little for my former-vegetarian sensibilities, I must say it would be amazing to make my own sausages one day. For now I shall happily grind a hill of breadcrumbs.

(some time later…) My little one loves to mill and was so charming about it, I made a movie.