One summer when my mom and I were visiting my grandma Tutu (hawaiian for grandmother) in Philly, I remember my mom taking a utensil out of the drawer in the kitchen and bringing it back to Portland with us. She called it a chopped liver chopper (because that’s what Aunt Doris has used it for) and told me that she had gotten it at a garage sale for a quarter some years back. She had given it to Aunt Doris and when she died, it ended up in my grandmother’s kitchen. Since Tutu didn’t actually cook much of anything (she occasionally managed spaghetti and meatballs or a roast, but didn’t enjoy doing it) my mom figured it was time to take the chopper home.
Somehow that single chopper started a collection, and for years we scanned thrift and antique stores for unique and inexpensive choppers. We watched as they got more and more expensive, always commenting that we were glad we had gotten so many nice ones before the prices rose. My mom hung them around the kitchen, until a friend of hers made an off-hand comment that it looked like an arsenal. When we moved to the next house, they got packed away and most were never rehung.
However, over the years, we incorporated a couple into the regular kitchen utensils, pairing one with a wooden bowl that my parents had received as a wedding present. It became the nut chopper and I learned that when you chop nuts by hand, you are better able to control the size and texture of the pieces, something you can’t do nearly as well with a food processor or blender.
I also liked using the chopper and bowl because I imagined that it was how my great-grandmother, my Auntie Tunkel and Laura Ingalls Wilder would have done their fine chopping. Every year, in preparation for Christmas dinner, it is still my job to toast and chop the brazil nuts for the stuffing.
When I moved away from home, my mom gave me one of her choppers to take with me. It hangs on my magnetic knife strip even as I write. I used it today, to chop up some toasted almonds for a salad.
Last May, when I was back in Portland helping my parents clean out, one of the boxes that got put on the garage sale pile was the box of choppers. I opened it up and culled through it, pulling out the few I wanted to keep before putting the rest back into the pile. The one pictured above was one that I kept. It has an old wooden handle that is easy to grip despite the smoothness that age has worn into it. But the part that charmed me the most was the imprint.
HENRY DISSION & SONS
I loved the idea of bringing something back with me to Philadelphia that had been born here many years before (I was also tickled at how they abbreviated Philadelphia). It’s those connections to the past that get me every time.