Mechanical Kitchenalia: Parers
Excerpted from The Chronicle Volume 59 No. 4, December 2006
by Ken Turner
Most of us in the tool world know that over the years, hand tools evolved or were displaced by various mechanical devices designed to make work make work easier. Usually what comes to mind when discussing the displacement of hand tools relates to the working of wood, metal, leather, stone, plaster, cane, and other materials. We might consider too, the tools used on the farm for the growing of crops or the raising of livestock. But, how often do we think of the hand tools used professionally and domestically for preparing food in the kitchen or in commercial food processing canneries and other such factories? In contrast to the plastic kitchen implements and the chromium, stainless steel, and enameled electrical appliances used in kitchens today, this series of articles will discuss the non-electrical iron and tin-plate beginnings of mechanization of tools used in kitchens in the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. The development of these tools, in fact, is a result of the Industrial Revolution. During that period the high wages being paid in factories lured laborers away from many areas of employment including domestic service. Many relinquished their jobs in service for greener pastures, or at least for better wages. The same shift in economics applied in North America also, where also in the mid-nineteenth century particularly high wages resulted in a shortage of domestic labor and produced a ready market for labor-saving appliances for the home. The result was a vacuum in the kitchens of homes and in hotels that was filled by mechanical labor-saving devices that minimized the labor involved in many chores from peeling and coring apples, which will be examined in this article, to cleaning tarnished and rusty knives, which will be discussed in a later article.
Many of the examples of tools illustrated in this series originated in the United States, a country certainly known for its inventiveness and ingenuity, as well as for its effective marketing of its products throughout the Western world, including Australia.
Apple Parers and Corers
From the seventeenth to nineteenth century in North America, thousands upon thousands of apple orchards were planted and cultivated, and these produced apples to provide what became an important winter staple, as well as a basic ingredient for a growing cider industry. Preserving apples to last over the winter involved the drudgery of hand paring, coring, slicing, and stringing before the apples could be hung to dry. There were attempts made by numerous inventors to relieve people of the chore of hand processing apples. Many of the early parers were made of wood, but the inventor Ephraim C. Pratt is credited with the first practical geared cast iron parer, patented in 1853. This mechanical method of paring, slicing, and coring is amazingly efficient, so long as that is, the fruit is fairly firm and not overripe, otherwise the process finishes up being a real mess.
Figures 1-6 show some of the many makes and models of corers and parers that were available during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. Goodell’s “White Mountain” and similar lathe parer/slicer/corers were popular. Today, there are, in fact, reproductions available of Goodell’s “White Mountain” and similar lathe parer/slicer/corers. The same mechanism was used for peeling potatoes. A nineteenth century advertisement for Goodell’s White Mountain Potato Parer noted that it:
“… is the only machine ever made that will not only pare a potato much better than it can be done by hand, taking off a thinner paring from every shape or kind of Potato, but will go into and clean out the eyes, and altogether at a saving of at least twenty per cent. It is free from the objections made to the style of rattle-trap, geared parers; is solid and substantial, cannot get out of order, and so cheap as to be within the means of everybody. Almost any of the Potato Parers in the market seem as if they might do the work better “next time,” but the “White Mountain” does it now. Every machine warranted as represented. Ask your hardware merchant for them. Price $1.00.”
Currently, there is as well on the market an all-plastic version, which while it differs aesthetically from the iron version, mechanically, it is in principle identical to the design used in the 1880s.
The many apple peeler design variations that appeared on the American market in the second half of the nineteenth century came about not so much in an attempt to improve an already workable idea (providing the apple was not soft), but rather for a manufacturer to be able to introduce a similar product on the market without violating existing patents.
Commercial Apple Parer/Corers
Mechanical parers that are much larger than those designed for domestic use are generally referred to as commercial apple parers. However, they were used in the kitchens of large households as well as in hotels, restaurants, clubs, steamship galleys, and by canneries and other commercial apple processors.
Why, it is often asked, do commercial parers have so many more gears, cams, and levers than the simple basic domestic versions? Well, just three turns of the handle of most commercial parers completely pares, slices, and cores an apple, whereas many of the domestic variety are with-out gearing and their direct drives require many more turns and more effort. Three different models of commercial parers are illustrated here (Figures 8-9). Watching these parers working is just poetry in motion.
Longtime EAIA member Ken Turner is a frequent contributor to The Chronicle. His last article, “Handy as a Pocket in a Shirt: Glass Cutter Combination Tools,” appeared in the September 2004 issue (The Chronicle, 57, no. 3, 85–90).