Life & Culture

Loving the fruits of my labour saving gadget


My kitchen is full of specialised fruit-and-vegetable preparation equipment. It's a bit of a personal obsession. And when I say "specialised", I really mean it - I'm talking about items that are intended only for one particular type of fruit or vegetable.

I have a strawberry huller and an onion chopper, a tomato knife and a cherry stoner, a banana bag and a device for getting pickles out of jars.

I feel a quiet satisfaction, every time I use one of these gadgets, because it's so perfectly suited to its purpose.

I own a pair of thick Perspex onion goggles that stop me from crying when I'm chopping onions. These have the added benefit of making me look hugely more attractive. At least, I think that was the effect they had, when I forgot to take them off before opening the door to the Tesco delivery man.

And yet, some of my most valued kitchen possessions are - unaccountably - mocked by visitors to our house. One example is my set of storage containers: a plastic tomato, lemon, onion and pepper, each designed to hold the remaining half of whichever item it resembles.

Since I bought them, I no longer find mouldering bits of fruit or vegetable wrapped in cling film and forgotten at the bottom of the fridge drawer. Instead, each one sits perkily, waiting to be used, in its brightly coloured, easy-to-identify receptacle.

Unfortunately, these containers are very much subject to abuse by other family members. A few months ago, for example, I opened the one intended for storing half a lemon, and found that my husband had put half a lime in it. It was a very difficult time for the marriage, but our relationship is recovering slowly.

Probably the device I love the best, though, is an apple-peeling machine, affectionately known within the family as the "apple torturer". This is a complex combination of springs, blades and spikes that looks like something out of Wallace and Gromit. It simultaneously peels and cores the apple, while cutting it into a perfect spiral: ideal when preparing lots of apples for a dessert.

My apple peeler and I did not, however, start off with the loving partnership we enjoy today.

When it first arrived, I read the instructions which went as follows: "It can be used widely in office, company, hotel and family. Also it can be sent to friends as a best present."

"Fantastic," I thought. "Whenever I visit a hotel in future, I'll certainly make sure to bring it."

The handle was packaged separately, but this was no challenge to a competent person such as myself. I saw where it needed to be screwed on, and spent quite a while trying to twist it round and round. Then it occurred to me that a screwdriver might be the way forward, so I found one and successfully joined handle and apple peeler together.

As I find anything mechanical completely impossible to understand, this was a real achievement.

I then skewered my first apple and turned the handle. The apple spun harmlessly in the air, far away from any kind of blade. So I decided to look at the instructions, which referred to numbers on a diagram: "Turn 11 and fix it above 15, then move 6 from 15 till it has enough space to set the apple. Spin 7 to regulate the space between 8 and 10, so that you can determine the thickness of the peeling…"

I started to perspire gently. After five minutes, springs and cogs started to detach themselves (from the apple peeler, not from me). I desperately tried to put them back, but it wasn't at all clear where they were supposed to go.

Eventually I gave up, in a pathetic parody of a helpless 1950s housewife, and waited for my husband to get home from work and fix it (which he duly did).

Once my apple peeler was up and running, though, I realised that it acted as a food preparation device and a party trick, all rolled into one.

I was pleased to see, when watching Stephen Fry's 100 Greatest Gadgets that he placed this apple peeler at number nine - ahead of the umbrella, vacuum cleaner and compass. I couldn't agree more. Who needs to stay dry, have clean floors or find their way around, so long as they have the ability to quickly mass produce apple crumble for 50? We know what's what, Stephen and I.

I liked it so much, in fact, that I gave one to my friend Sara, "as a best present".

When I demonstrated how it worked, she clapped her hands for joy. I'd never before seen anyone literally clap their hands for joy. It was delightful. It just shows the power of a really good kitchen gadget.


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