Going from the garage to the kitchen

Sharon Kennedy

Twenty years ago, I enjoyed watching a television show called the “Urban Peasant,” broadcast over the CBC network. James Barber was the cook. He was a pleasant looking fellow free from the usual trappings of celebrity TV chefs. He was a bit overweight, wore clothes straight from the racks of a second-hand store and his set was as plain as a white dish. His appeal was in his honesty.

He used normal ingredients found in every kitchen cupboard, pantry, or refrigerator. He left the fancy ingredients on the shelves of specialty stores. Home cooks didn’t have to hunt for an exotic spice, nut, or fruit.

Although most of his episodes can be found on YouTube or purchased from Amazon, I have no intention of adding more recipes to my already teeming supply. What I remember most about this unassuming fellow was his go-to gadget for zesting a lemon, lime, or orange. He used a rasp.

Long before “microplanes” became top sellers and every television cook had to have one, Barber was using a regular rasp to grate zest into whatever he was making. He called it a rasp. It was something he picked up at the hardware store and realized it was the perfect tool for getting the zest from the fruit and avoiding the bitter pith. He didn’t refer to it as a microplane. It was and remains in my mind today, a cheap old rasp.

However, few things are as they appear. We give fancy names to bland items to make them more appealing to consumers and to disguise their true nature. In the cereal department “Sugar Pops” became “Corn Pops” because we don’t want to feed our loved ones sugar for breakfast. With the discovery of celiac disease, foods that never had gluten in them suddenly were advertised as “Gluten Free.” Because we are a nation obsessed with obesity, the term “Lite” is now an acceptable prefix for a large variety of edibles that are loaded with chemicals to replace traces of fat. I guess it was only a matter of time and marketing before an ordinary rasp became a designer microplane for today’s modern kitchens.

I remember when Gloria Vanderbilt started the “label” revolution in clothing. In 1977 I was living downstate in Lincoln Park and working in an office at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. The first and only pair of “designer” jeans I purchased cost $60.00, an unheard of amount for what was nothing more than a pair of mundane waist high overalls. You remember them. Every mother purchased a pair from Penney’s or Ward’s or the dimestore. They were made of denim and wore like iron.

Anyway, when I outgrew Gloria’s size five jeans, I kept them. I had paid what amounted to a small fortune and wasn’t about to part with them, but when they were eight years old I decided to give them on consignment to a resale shop in the Soo. I knew there was no way I was ever going to squeeze into them again. The shop didn’t stay in business long and when it was closing, the owner called and asked if I wanted my Vanderbilt’s back. I said no and that was the end of that story.

Like many folks, I’ve never been impressed by labels. Maybe the quality is better, but styles change so fast nobody wants to wear something that was fashionable three years ago unless you’re over 60, but there are exceptions. Flash is 72, but prides himself on keeping up with current fads. A few years ago he purchased a snazzy pair of $200 shoes from an upscale store in Chicago. He had never spent that much on footwear and was proud of them until I mentioned they squeaked when he walked. I was always told cheap shoes squeaked, but Flash just laughed and said what’s a little squeak when you’re in style.

His $800 pair of eyeglasses was another sore spot with us. I asked why he spent so much when he gets new glasses every year. Then I remembered his employer bore most of the cost, so that was understandable. When I met Flash 18 years ago, he bought his nondescript eyewear from Walmart where I still purchase mine. Expensive frames don’t help his eyesight, but I guess everything’s relative and I’m relatively sure I’ll never understand his vanity.

I’m nearing the end of this column so I better return to the rasp. Dad had a couple of them. Occasionally I find one hanging from a nail in the garage or wellhouse. Usually, it’s rusty and dull and not much good for anything except a memory. Sometimes an old barn jacket was hung on the nail and the rasp was hidden from sight. I imagine Dad hunted for it and wondered where it had disappeared. He probably remembered where he hung it, but when he reached for it, it was gone.

Memories are like that old hidden rasp. They’re tucked away in a corner of our mind, brought out occasionally and shared with others. They might be a bit rusty, but that’s okay. Nobody’s going to grill us on the veracity of them. Some memories will remain secrets we keep to ourselves, too precious or too sad to share. Although the years might have dimmed or glossed them, they’re as unpretentious as James Barber’s kitchen rasp.

Editor’s note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past. She can be reached via email at sharonkennedy1947@gmail.com. In addition, Sharon has compiled a collection of stories from her various newspaper columns. The title of her book is “Life in a Tin Can.” Copies are available from Snowbound Books on North Third Street in Marquette.