My wife and I were cleaning out the kitchen a few weeks ago when we came across a rather strange-looking device. It could be described as a combination between a small pair of metal tongs and some kind of slicer. We racked our brains trying to figure out what it was for. Eggs? Nuts? Ice? Bewildered, we wondered if it even belonged in the kitchen.
I showed our gadget to a couple of friends but they were as confounded as I was. Then I turned it over to my ever-resourceful sister-in-law. She took it to a a couple of kitchen stores and asked several friends, all to no avail. Finally she showed the device to her hair stylist – who sent a phone video to his girlfriend – and voila! – mystery solved. Turns out our little mechanical metal friend is a butter cutter.
I don’t blame you if you’re still confused. Not only did I wonder why (as in, why do you need a butter cutter?) or how (as in, how do you use the darned thing?), but also when (as in, when did people ever use one of these?).
I’ll get to the why in a minute. As for the how, a butter cutter is used by holding the blade perpendicular to a stick of butter, pressing the base down into the stick, then pushing down on the blade. The push down and spring back of the blade produces the “pat” of butter you sometimes get with a dinner roll at restaurants. Move on down the stick and you can churn out butter pats to your heart’s content.
As for the when, it turns out our butter cutter is vintage. It was popular back in the 1950’s. If you simply must have one for your kitchen, go here. But my research also led me to ask which, as in which one? It turns out there are several butter cutters for your consideration:
Remarkably, there are lots of butter cutters out there if you search long enough. Some claim to also work on rolls of cookie dough. Others claim to also cut potatoes into chips. But the more models you find, the more you’re inclined to ask why? Why go to so much trouble to cut butter when a perfectly ordinary kitchen knife will do just fine (and with far less mess?). That earth-shattering question is actually covered at unclutterer.com, a blog about “getting and staying organized”. Check out the hot debate and the wealth of reader comments here (from people who clearly have too much time on their hands).
My own take on why is more satisfying. The more I thought about our butter cutter, the more I realized I probably inherited it from my mother. Along with other kitchen items, she probably tossed it into a box as I was heading off to my first apartment so many years ago. And thinking about it even more, I can picture my mother using her butter cutter when I was a kid, leaving a perfect little pat beside the crescent roll that was positioned carefully on the bread plate beside each place setting at the dinner table. Because that was my mother. She was all about the dinner table. Everything had its place, even the pats of butter. And there’s an element of grace that comes with the butter cutter that would not be found in simply using a knife.
Laugh at the pointlessness of a butter cutter if you must. But I will cherish mine instead, as well as the vintage memories that spring back every time I use it.