I had an idea of writing about items I remember from my childhood – and from other times, items which I no longer have but which evoke strong memories as I think about them; memories of those items being used, what they did, when they were used and how, and who was using them.
Today’s item is a tomato knife. It has a round, red, wooden handle, which would comfortably fit in the hand of an adult. The blade is longer than the handle, probably about six inches, quite broad but with a very fine serrated blade; the blade is broad and tapers to a very sharp point. It is perfect for cutting tomatoes; the needle like tip pierces the tomato skin, even the toughest skin, without tearing or pulling it, and the fine serrations cut easily through the flesh to make clean perfect slices – as thin as you might want them. Most of the tomatoes we ate were grown by my dad, and those we bought would have been local from the market.
The tomato knife was always in the kitchen drawer – we had a metal cabinet about four-foot high, maybe five foot long and two and a half to three-foot deep. It had two drawers, one which had the cutlery and kitchen tools, the other had things such as string, greaseproof paper, icing sets etc. The cabinet had two doors which opened onto shelves and up one end was a meat safe, a box with fine mesh across the open front which would allow cool air in but not flies. Butter, cheese and bacon were also kept in there – we didn’t have a fridge in those days.
As I began to cook, I found the tomato knife invaluable for cutting other vegetables without tearing them, or anything like celery which was stringy and would rip into strips with an ordinary kitchen knife. I won’t deviate into talking about celery, which wasn’t the green, bitter vegetable we buy now, usually of Spanish origin, but Cambridgeshire fen celery was white and crisp and nutty and sweet and peppery, it had to be washed as it often still had black fen soil attached. Gradually over the years, the red paint wore off, then the shaft of the blade became loose in the wooden handle, and eventually the two no longer fitted. By this time I was living away from home and had the tomato knife with me, discarded by my parents who now used ordinary kitchen knives. Somewhere along the line the tomato knife was discarded… I don’t remember when or why, but I just remember the knife with its red handle, and the paper-thin slices of tomato it would cut for sandwiches, cut so thin that they didn’t make the bread soggy but were perfect for the filling of dry cheese or crumbly ham.
I don’t suppose you can buy tomato knives any more…