tailor’s chalk

Like a set of wooden drawing pencils, or an ink-filled fountain pen, I adore tailor’s chalk for its simplicity of form.

tailor's chalk © elisa rathje 2012

Just a flat shape to grip, a sharp edge to mark fabric with, a pure substance that harms neither the cloth nor the tailor. I have great respect for the ecology of a product that leaves nothing to throw away when it’s done. Even a broken piece remains useful. I love to use this chalk for measuring and marking in quilting and dressmaking. And isn’t it a pretty object?

bicycle clip

There were a number days of such beautiful weather, they put me in mind of riding bicycles to the beach. On our little trip to Winchester I came across a set of bicycle clips just like the ones my father used to lend me to keep trouser legs from sweeping a pattern of grease from the gears. Simple and effective. Also a little bit nerdy in a charming, bicycley sort of way, particularly when forgotten on as one walks round the shops.

bicycle clips © elisa rathje 2012

Well yes, I did fall for the graphic design, too. However, there will be no bicycle riding for me til these spring storms blow well and truly over. I shall be quite preoccupied with rather an exciting photo shoot in the old cottage next, so I hope you’ll forgive my absence! I’ll be back next week, hoping for May flowers.


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.

hand bone gauge

Next in the River Cottage tried & trues is the utterly charming Steve Lamb, with his utterly unappealing choice of a hand bone gauge. Its original purpose is for hip replacement operations.


I know. However, Steve assures me that it is an excellent tool for removing the bone from a gorgeous cured ham, such as the one hanging over our heads in this picture.


If I am ever so fortunate as to have a whole leg of ham to cure and bone, I shall be very grateful for this advice. Thanks Steve. No, really. I have ambitions to do these kinds of things!


Lucky he’s so charming.

rolling pin

One of those objects that never made the cut when we packed our cases and left Canada for England was my somewhat cracked rolling pin. Easily replaced.


Amazingly I made do without it for a couple of years. As the holiday approached I began to fret over its absence, but with all the snow the one my sweetheart sent for showed up in the post long after we’d resigned ourselves to using a bottle to roll out our holiday cookies. The cookery course has revived my interest in many recipes requiring a good pin. A friend gave us one of the rod types, without handles. I’m grateful for it, as it’s very useful for hammering cabbage for sauerkraut, encouraging crumbly things along, and generally bashing things up.

Gideon, our teacher for our day devoted to bread, recommended a large pin with handles for any vigorous rolling; he says your hands are protected from bruising and I quite agree. Thanks Gideon.

I now have an extremely serious and hefty roller, which I expect never, ever to crack, and used for the first time today. I had a little shortcrust pastry ready, and floured the wonderful spot in my kitchen that is my baking corner: a marble countertop, always cool to the touch and very smooth. I keep my scales there, a bowl of eggs, jars of flour. Rolling dough reminds me of my little grandmother, it seems to me that she was always doing this. My family once built her a low wooden counter dedicated to her baking. I shall have to try some of the old Finnish recipes now that I have my own dedicated spot.

Today I made another version of the savoury tart, this time with cheddar and chicken, for my mild children. It was popular.

Some of the other River Cottage folks were kind enough to tell me their best tried & true objects, I’ll share them next week.