My bloodless coup

by Pat Churchill on September 19, 2014

About 20 years ago we did a substantial renovation at the then family home. At the end of it I had my dream kitchen. I decided it was time I had a knife block for my expensive kitchen knives. In those days it was a modest collection and so I bought a modest knife block.

Over the intervening years, the knives went forth and multiplied. A bigger knife block was called for. By then we had shifted home and country. I thought it would be easy to find a knife receptacle in this food-loving city, but though I scoured Melbourne, I failed. Sure, there were knife blocks aplenty but they all came with resident knives. I had enough knives. I didn’t need any more. I wanted an empty knife block.

After a frustrating exhaustive search, I gave up looking. Then one day, while mindlessly wandering round an arty overpriced gift store, I came across a knifeless block. All it contained was a collection of very fine black rods designed to hold and separate the kitchen knives. I bought it.

The idea was good until the knife block began malfunctioning a few months later. Maybe I keep my knives too sharp, but after a while even a few knives wouldn’t fit in snugly between the rods. The block started spitting them out. There’s nothing like a sharp cook’s knife clattering onto the bench and taking little chips out of the beautiful worktop in our near-new home.

I began my knife block hunt once more. Same old story. Even shops purveying professional chefs’ supplies couldn’t sell me an empty knife block apart from the capricious black rod variety.

I decided I might have to commission a wood-worker to custom-make a knife holder, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet.

I chewed Mr Google’s ear and sent him off looking for an “empty knife block”. He kept finding useless little blocks that would hold only five or six knives, or more capacious ones but with dumb labels on the slots like “showtime” or “rocker”.

No one can say I lack patience but meanwhile another knife flipped out of the existing knife block, sending The Spouse tut-tutting and running his fingers over the pitted patch on the bench. He was starting to sound like a curmudgeon. He had to be silenced. He was on shaky ground loitering too close to the knife collection.

And then, in the depths of the internet, miles beyond the Hollywood starlets, scrummy mummies and wayward sportsmen and I found exactly what I was looking for. Amazon had an empty block that would house a score of knives from a battery of small paring knives to a substantial cleaver, kitchen scissors and a sharpening steel. And only $27.90 – half what I had paid for the useless block I was replacing.

My bloodless coup

Sticking the knife in

It was very satisfying to see my favourite knives slide effortlessly into the block – and stay there. It was equally satisfying to open the rubbish bin, throw the old block where it belonged, and smugly announce to The Spouse “I’ve already done it!”

Kitchen knives are very personal things. They need to be immediately accessible from our work area. They are no use (not to mention, dangerous) sitting scabbardless in a drawer.

Treated with respect, they will last for years. And we need to choose the knives that best suit us and not invest in a designer set in matching block. You can guarantee at least a couple of those designer knives will never get used. Leave those pretty boys for non-cooks who use boning knives for opening the box of coffee capsules or as a proxy screwdriver.

In a world full of space-occupying “essential” kitchen gadgetry, I still cannot understand why real necessities like empty knife blocks are so hard to come by. A niche market waiting to be exploited?

Fortunately I’ve managed to do a fairly good cosmetic job on my damaged benchtop – but that’s another story…



In the pink

by Pat Churchill on November 5, 2013

The further I get into family history research, the more I admire the stamina of my forebears, particularly the women. It wasn’t unusual for them to have up to a dozen children. Some married very young and produced as many as 18 offspring, with occasional twins.

Admittedly, with that many children, there were always older ones to look after their younger siblings and help out with chores. But those mothers must have had some stamina to spend half their married lives pregnant. Last babies were generally born by the time the mother was 45, at least among my relatives.


frontRecently I came across an old recipe book which was put out by the Lydia E Pinkham Medicine Company of Lynn, Massachusetts. If you think the name rings a bell, chances are you’ll remember The Scaffold’s hit song Lily The Pink, which in turn was based on a US folk song about Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, a herbal patent medicine – with an alcohol component – intended to relieve menstrual and menopausal pains. It was mass-marketed in the US from 1876.

At first it was prepared upon a kitchen stove, but eventually a great laboratory was needed with enormous tanks in which millions of bottles of the medicine were compounded.

The cookbook, Food and Health, probably published in the early 1920s, contained a modest collection of recipes, but it was more of an evangelistic organ recital by “many classes of women, young and old, mother and daughter” who had been restored to health by the vegetable compound. This was the time of Prohibition and no doubt the 40-proof medicine had added attraction.

Over the years, endorsements came thick and fast. In one year alone more than 100,000 letters were received.  The little Food and Health booklet was obviously intended to further spread the word.

Many women endorsing the vegetable compound had found themselves run down, unable to do their work.

One poor woman, wedged between the corn cake recipe and tea biscuits, confessed: “I was troubled with weak feelings, headache all the time, a cough, fainting spells and pains in my back and side. I could not do a single bit of work and had to be helped out to the hammock where I lay in the fresh air from morning until night and I had to be carried up and down stairs.”

Halfway through the first bottle she could walk alone and she got stronger until she could do all her work. “My baby is now six weeks old and is a big fat healthy fellow.

There were girls who could barely drag themselves to school, left weak and nervous by “monthly troubles”.  One mother who put her daughter on the compound said: “She does not have the least bit of trouble now, and we both recommend your medicine. She works in a candy-shop now and seems well and strong.

LydiaAs well as the Vegetable Compound, there were endorsements for Lydia E Pinkham’s Sanative Wash for “the white flow” – leuchorrhoea and accompanying inflammation. Its praises were sung, unhappily juxtaposed in the cake-making section.

One distracted young woman admitted “even the sound of my own children playing made me feel as if I must scream if they did not get away from me. I could not even speak right to my husband.” Lydia to the rescue.

Another confessed: “Before using Lydia E Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound I was a total wreck. I had terrible pains in my sides and was not regular. Finally I got so weak I could not go upstairs without stopping to rest halfway up. I saw your medicine advertised in the newspapers and gave it a trial. I took four bottles of the Vegetable Compound and was restored to health.

“I am married, am the mother of two children, and do all my own housework, milk eight cows and do a hired man’s work and enjoy the best of health. I also found the Vegetable Compound a great help for my weak back before my babies were born. I recommend it to all my friends.”

The makers noted: “In this generation it is ‘the style’ to be healthy. Our heroines no longer languish and faint. They are all healthy girls and women who do a day’s work or play just as a man does. If some of us are not so healthy as this, we try to be and take Lydia E Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound when we feel the need.”

The original formula for Vegetable Compound included

A similar product is these days marketed in the US named Lydia Pinkham Herbal Compound by Numark Laboratories.

flourish Further reading:







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