Once upon a time in the early 60’s, my mother bought a set of Ecko utensils. They looked like this
and some of them are still alive today, proudly carrying on in my mother’s current kitchen, reminders of simpler times and other kitchens, having survived not only the 60’s but the learning to cook of more than a few children, myself included. The spatula, sadly, has passed on to wherever it may be that loyal kitchen tools go, but surprisingly recently. As in, about 6 months ago, when it was over 40 years old. But it will live on, in my memory and in the memories of my mother and siblings, forever as the Lucky Spatula.
As you may gather from the photo, this Ecko utensil set was stainless steel with black plastic handles. But not just any plastic; 1960’s plastic. And they don’t make plastic like that anymore. They don’t have to. Most of the original stuff is still around. The 60’s did not fuck around with any tree-hugging biodegradable-in-your-lifetime green-going plastic. They built their plastic to last, and saved their greenness and tree hugging for where it would be best appreciated; in meadows, where there were trees.
But even the most hardcore and determined of plastics can fall prey to the striking of a handle against an unyielding surface at precisely the wrong angle, and such was the fate of the Lucky Spatula. At some point in the early 70’s, its majestic black plastic beauty was reduced to a mere nub, with a stainless steel rectangular protrusion to remind us of its former glory.
So naturally, I thought it was fantastic. A spatula with an actual kid-sized handle. The best thing that could happen to an eight-year-old learning to cook.
Now, before I go any further, I should probably explain something. This was me around the time I was learning to cook
and needless to say, the burden of rampant popularity amongst my peers wasn’t something with which I fought a daily battle. Yes, I was a nerd. I loved to read. Anything I could get my hands on. So imagine the mental process tripped by the reading of the following statement
“IF YOU CAN READ, YOU CAN COOK”
in the introduction of this 1973 classic:
Well then, I could cook. At that point, it was just a matter of proving it. And prove it I did, with the Lucky Spatula at my side all the while, like some kind of mass-produced culinary Jesus; long before I was even old enough to understand that peanut butter & jelly sandwiches were assembled and not born, it had been sacrificed for my kitchen sins, and I had only to forgive myself. Just knowing that I was using a tool that was already broken gifted me with a freedom that, looking back, I may not have ever learned to cook without. After all, what was I going to do, break something?
Flash forward past ragingly successful scrambled eggs, French toast from my father’s recipe (the one thing even my mom admits that my dad makes better than anyone in the world), a really questionable attempt at chicken a l’orange, and a pink thing that was supposed to be sugared popcorn, and I found myself viewing the trials and tribulations of Chefs Anne Burrell and Robert Irvine as they attempted to coax edible foodstuffs from a group of individuals dubbed the Worst Cooks in America.
(On a side note, I totally called Joshie to win when there were still 8 recruits in the running. I know passion for food when I see it)
And while I was by turns amused and enthralled by the journey of these individuals, and never shy about cheering them on in their endeavors, beneath it all was an emotion I didn’t identify until the third or fourth episode of the show I watched.
Then I realized what it was. I was a little sad. Sad for complete strangers that I have never and likely will never meet, sad that they had never known the liberation of the Lucky Spatula, or whatever in their lives would have been its equivalent; sad that not everyone finds the thing that gives them the freedom to fail in the kitchen, and consequently the freedom to try again, as many times as it takes, sad that they had never known the joy of learning to cook at a young age, and had that skill to carry with them throughout the rest of their lives.
Sad, and at the same time grateful. Grateful that I had a mother who was frugal enough to hang onto a spatula with a broken handle, and realistic enough to understand that her kids needed to really screw things up in the kitchen before they would ever get them right.
Or maybe that’s why she kept it. By the time I was old enough to reach the stove, the Lucky Spatula was as broken as it was going to get. Even I couldn’t break it again.
But, before I got those scrambled eggs right, God knows I tried.
(This post is dedicated with love to my mom, who was supportive enough to not ever tell me that someone coming home from the hospital after a bout with appendicitis does not want to immediately be confronted with a ten-year-old’s rendition of chicken a l’orange.)