Tuesday February 20, 2007

Copper sat down to sharpen a couple of my knives this morning, and it occurred to me how valuable a good,sharp kitchen knife can be.  A good quality kitchen knife is a good investment.  The majority of my knives are over 28 years old.  My favorite knife is probably closer to 50 years old!!  All of my knives are decades old and show no signs of un-do wear.  I expect I will have these knives for life.  There are two reasons that my knives have served me so long – quality and care.

My mother was a meat wrapper for more than 30 years.  All of her knives were bought through the butchers she worked with.  When her knives needed to be sharpened, the butchers were happy to do the job for her.   When Copper and I were married, my mom blessed me with three good quality knives.  She purchased them through a company that sold knives to the butchers in the supermarket she worked for.  I’m sure that my knives were probably a bit on the pricey side, but as they are still serving me well almost 30 years later, it was an investment worth making.

I did purchase a few inexpensive knives in the early years of my marriage.  A boning knife and a series of serrated bread knives come immediately to mind.  They have long since been thrown away.  Either the handles broke, or the blades broke (scary!).  One knife became very wobbly in its handle and was quite hazardous to use.  My mom took pity on me, though, and completed my set with two or three more good quality knives.  When she passed away, I brought home three or four of her good knives as well.

My favorite knife, the one that is probably 50 years old or more, was also her favorite knife.  It is the knife she always reached for.  When I look at my aging hands, I see, quite vividly, my mom’s hands!  No wonder her favorite knife is also my favorite.  The very worn handle fits my hand!!!  It was tailor made for me through years of use by my own mother!!  I suppose that is why it is now the knife that I most commonly reach for.

I keep my knives in a wooden block.  This method of storage is a bit tricky because a storage block can harbor bits and pieces of food, dust, etc., and can be a breeding ground for bacteria.  However, in my less-than-perfect-kitchen, I do not have a drawer that is suitable for knife storage, and I do not care to have my knives out all of the time on a magnetic wall strip.  I am careful to keep my knives clean, though; and so far have had no problems with keeping them in the block.

Proper care of your knives is important.  I am always careful to hand wash my knives in very hot water using my liquid dish detergent.  I then carefully dry the blades and handles with a clean dish towel.  I follow this by allowing them to air dry for a few minutes to be sure that they are completely dry before I put them back into the block.  NEVER put your knives in the dishwasher!!!  The detergent is too harsh for the metal blades of your knife, and the hot water will ruin your fine wooden handles.  Just don’t do it!!

Keeping your knives sharp is vital to their performance.  You should never have to saw a tomato to break the skin.  You should never have to hack away at a roast chicken or piece of roast beef to slice it for your family. Your first line of attack in keeping your knives sharp is the sharpening steel.  In all of my many years of marriage and homekeeping, I have just now learned why the steel works!  Who says you can’t teach an old dog a new trick now and then? When we use our knives, two things can happen to the blades. The most common thing that happens through everyday use is that the thin, sharp edge of your blade will roll ever so slightly.  You won’t be able to see this slight rolling, of course, but it’s happening.  This is where the sharpening steel comes in.  By running the blades of your knives across the steel, the steel actually undoes this very slight rolling and puts the sharp edge back where it belongs.  I am afraid that I have had my husband sharpen far too many knives for me over the years that would have responded favorably to steeling.  I have also just learned that a serrated knife, which cannot be sharpened, CAN be steeled, and it works!!!

My recent education about the use of a steel comes from Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson.  I am slowly working my way through this HUGE book on the domestic art of home keeping, and have enjoyed every bit of it.  I’ve enjoyed the encouragement in the sections where things I already know and do are discussed, and I’ve certainly picked up some new ideas as well.  Thanks to her section on knives and knife sharpening (the chapter is called The Center of a Dwelling) my steel will no longer languish unused and unloved in the knife block.

However, there does come a time when the knife blade has been dulled by use and needs to be sharpened. There are a few places that will still sharpen knives for you for free.  A large grocery chain in our area will sharpen knives for you while you shop.  You simply transport them to the store with the blades covered (tucked into a sturdy plastic box, for example), drop them off with the butcher and pick them up before you check out.  Be sure to thank the butcher for his fine work!  Check with the butcher in your local market to see if they will do this for you before you take your knives in.   Most major malls also have a knife/cutlery store, and they will also sharpen knives.  These knife shops will charge you for their services, though.

Sharpening your own knives can be tricky.  After Mom retired from the meat industry, Dad would sharpen herkitchen knives for her on his whet stone, using some knife oil.  He did a good job, but they were never quite as sharp as the butchers would get them.  On trip to Oregon one year, Mom and Dad paid a visit to a cousin Mom had never met.  While they were there, the cousin pulled out his knife sharpening kit to sharpen a few kitchen knives for his wife.  Dad looked on in amazement.  With no more effort than Dad used in sharpening a knife on a whet stone, my mom’s cousin sharpened his own knives to a “butcher sharp” edge.  Mom went out to the camper and brought in her knives to be sharpened!!  The cousin showed Dad how to use the various tools included in the kit, and Dad sharpened all of their camper knives along with his own pocket knife.  As soon as they returned home, Dad ordered a kit for himself, and soon thereafter bought one for my husband as well.  The set,  the Lansky Sharpening Kit, comes with thorough instructions, and my husband has kept my knives “butcher sharp” ever since!  (And I’m always sure to thank him for his fine work, too!)

Take good care of your knives.  All of the things we have in our homes have been provided for us by the Lord, and we should show our gratitude not only with thankful hearts, but also by taking good care of the gifts He bestows.  A good quality kitchen knife might be something you have to save up for, but it is an investment worth making!

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