Monday, June 27, 2011


I’ve been reading the new book of Julia-to-Avis letters, between Julia Child and Avis Devoto, after they met as pen pals in the early fifties.    The first letter was from Julia, a fan letter to Mrs. DeV’s husband, who had written a piece on knife choices for the kitchen.    She heartily agreed with him that the old original steel was best for blade and angle and use, and that stainless was just unwieldy bits of useless metal, and anybody who used them, etc., etc.   She seemed to send sets of the old dark steel ones to all and sundry in her cooking milieu, with undisguised disdain for those who preferred the stainless.

She raised an eyebrow and the tip of her nose at a noted chef who was horrified and sickened by the staining of the food which occurred with the steel blades, as well as the unpleasant metallic tang which adhered to whatever they cut.

And I’m with THEM---the stainless side, for I long ago retired the old steel blades, with a shudder and a grimace at the memory of the beautiful slices of a lovely sweet onion, falling beneath one of the admittedly sharp, good blades, but looking bruised and rotten, merely from the contact.  

Like my shoe shelf (sparse as it is), my knife rack is notably devoid of Big-Brand Names. But all the ones I REALLY use have the SAME name, because I like them. They are called RADA, are just RIGHT for my hands, have the best-feeling handles, and sharpen up exactly like I want---keen and ready. We pick them up mostly at Flea Market and Gun Show displays, and I'm finding it hard to locate one I DON'T have yet.

They are stainless, with gleaming brushed-steel handles, are just the right weight for me, and amongst their array (From Chef's knife, with a slight curve to the 10" blade and a wicked, paper-slicing edge, to the little Birdie-beak nipper with its teensy wanna-be-a-scimitar nose) I have everything I'll ever need at the cutting board. Which they also offer---stiff 9x13 translucent sheets, about six of which stand against the shelf wall behind the cooking pots, and which fit perfectly into the bottom DW rack.

My two favorite knives are sorta a cross between a cleaver and a chef's knife, without the curvy, rocking bottom. If a cleaver had a narrower blade which extended out to a rounded nosetip---that's how they look. And they're perfect for my hands, for the board, for slicing an onion just right in quick, sure strokes, or chopping it with that tip-steady downward slice that lets the perfect little chips fall, ready for a salad or a cooked dish.

We've given dozens for gifts, especially to the guys in the family who like to cook---almost all, in fact. Last Christmas, I just handed the catalog to the son here in town, and said, "Pick out four and mark them---all you guys will get the same ones."   Since he's the one with the biggest collection, I figured what he doesn't have, no one else does either. And the two newly-wed couples got the "Starter Kit" which had nine pieces and a sharpener, as well as a board.

I sound as if I should moonlight for Ron Popeil, but I just haven't found anything in the kitchen I like as well as I like these knives. (Well, maybe my ice-maker, but that's on another plane altogether).

I'm not a Chef. I'm an everyday COOK, turning out home-cooking and thin-slicing and chopping and dicing, dismembering a chicken or turkey, peeling everything from potatoes to peaches.   I have no knife-case, with every precious item stored in silken velvet. There's no acquire in my soul, sending me on a long quest for the best brand or the exact shape for each use.

There’s certainly no utensil-snob gene in my makeup---buying the NAME instead of the product ---that makes about as much sense as making a phone call on a potato.

I grew up as the only girl in a big neighborhood of rowdy boys. I carried a Barlow, honed to a keen edge on a satiny brick. One of the heavier small knives disappeared from our knife-drawer, never to be seen in the house again, since it was handle-wrapped in heavy tape and used for target practice---I mastered a tip-hold throw that sent my little knife into post, tree, shed wall, with blurring accuracy. It just came naturally to me to flick it out to its target as if it were still guided by someplace up in my shoulder.    And the little “flick” which sends blade into target is still in my muscle-memory, like the never-forget balance of walking a steel train-rail or riding a bike.

And I DO love the handfeel and the heft and the quick keenness of a trusty old kitchen knife. All mine are probably exactly what they mean when they say "stamped"---
these coulda been stamped out of a Play-Doh mold and I'd still like 'em.

Chris just picked up several yesterday at a trade show for Sis to pack into her luggage and try.   I heartily recommend them.

And you-----Stainless or old-fashioned steel?


Patsy said...

With The Bennie being a butcher when we married he straightened me out on the knive thing real quick.

mississippi artist said...

I am with you, I only use certain knives and other kitchen utensils. It has to feel right! Of course I have four huge drawers full of every kitchen gadget known to man-bought when I was really into cooking-I'm not so much anymore. LOL! Boy ,you were a little girl to be reckoned with weren't you-so funny!

Chesapeake said...

Stainless. Have several RADAs, mostly in the moving house, and I chose the black handle. Did you ever look at the Kapoosh knife block? It has the little plastic rods instead of slots, and is wonderfully versatile.

sparrowgrass said...

I have some Radas and some Chicago Cutlery and some of unknown provenance. The only Rada product that I didn't like was their veggie peeler--it has the worst handle known to mankind, and hurt my hand.

I store my knives on a magnetic strip above the counter--keeps them safe and sound and out of reach of little hands.

Beverly said...

You're right, Rachel. You should be doing a commercial for these. I've never heard of them, but I will keep my eye open.

Keetha said...

I love this image of you as a girl tossing a knife into a post. That's so great!

I have my favorite knife, and Jeffrey has his. They're different brands and, as you say, seem to fit each of our hands perfectly.

Kim Shook said...

I have a motley collection of knives that I've collected over the years - a few 'good' Henckles, a couple of ceramics, some junkers that just fit my hand right, but my 'go to' is the RADA that Chris got me on our trip to see y'all. I just love the weight and the feel of it in my hand. Once I had it, I even ordered some for my mom and Jessica!

Annesphamily said...

I am not much on knife info but found this wonderfully interesting. I have always wanted to own a set of beautiful sharp knives. Makes the kitchen work easier.