|Wall hanging, Kitchen Tools, Robin Hoshino.|
Recently DH and drove to the Fuller Craft Museum, in Brockton, Massachusetts, to view Objects of Use and Beauty, on view from June 2, 2018 through October 28, 2018. This exhibit is a celebration of the Japanese batterie de cuisine. Japanese master craftspeople make cooking tools not just for function but for delight. And why not? What is more important, or fundamental, than feeding our families, friends and guests.
|The traditional beckoning cat, welcoming guests to food-related establishments.|
An except from the wall text, by co-curators Merry White and Debra Samuels,
Japanese tools for the kitchen are admired as objects of beauty. They are also practical, functioning utensils for the preparation of food. Dedicated craftspeople design and produce them in materials ranging from metal and wood, to stone, bamboo, reeds, grasses, ceramic, silicone, fiberglass, and plastic. These tools reflect their makers' art, as well as the functions each object serves - producing and serving foods desired for their taste and beauty around the world. In Japan, food is a multisensory experience: me de taberu, "eat with your eyes," the saying goes. Aesthetic pleasure, too, applies to the tools that produce it. That "beauty in use" - yo no bi - inspires this exhibition at Fuller Craft Museum.
For what chef - Japanese or otherwise - could not enjoy the feel of a perfectly weighted knife, the warmth of a wood rice paddle, the glint of light off a hammered pot, and the textures and tastes of foods cut, sieved, grated, or simmered with such utensils?
I've had the opportunity to enjoy and try a wide variety of foods, in restaurants both in the US and in my travels. When my children were still at home, a favorite restaurant was a noodle shop (now closed, sadly) near Boston University. My husband would rig up a kind of "hinge" using an elastic band and a folded napkin to help the kids learn to use chopsticks. We didn't know about "training wheels" chopsticks.
|Chopsticks for kids or any beginners.|
Chopsticks are also used in cooking, to manipulate food or cookware - the adorable pig lid below can be lifted by inserting a chopstick into the pig's nose; the "nostrils" also vent steam. The pig pan rests on a pretend cooktop, with cookware and serveware neatly arranged on shelves as they would be in a real Japanese kitchen. The tools displayed include small hand-made baskets, identical to ones used a century ago, and the latest computerized rice cooker.
|THE most adorable cooking pan I have ever seen.|
|Japanese-style kitchen, complete with a home cook's white apron.|
|Teapots, bowls, plates, sake set, chopsticks and other items.|
The exhibit kitchen reminded me of the home of Kyoto-base artist Yoshiko Jinzenji; Ms. Jinzenji was kind enough to host my textile studio group in 2012. She and her staff served us a most delicious cheesecake.
|The kitchen of Yoshiko Jinzenji.|
|Another view of Ms. Jinzenji's kitchen.|
Plastic food aside, most of the utensils in the exhibit are made from traditional materials, using techniques taught by one generation to the next. Below is a mortar thrown on a potter's wheel and glazed after the inside is incised with a pattern of grooves. The groove pattern improves the pulverizing of foods like sesame seeds. The pestle is hardwood, which does not damage the ceramic bowl. The small mat keeps everything from slipping around.
|Strainers for noodles.|
|Bamboo rolling mat made by Tanaka Kotaro, pictured.|
Graters of all descriptions feature in Japanese cuisine, specialized for the type of food - daikon radishes, ginger, garlic, for example - to be minced. The image below, on the left, show three graters made from bamboo and wood and used for radishes. This type of grater is affectionately known as a "demon grater" as the teeth resemble the teeth and horns of a demon. Meet the demon, who is more silly than scary to me, in the tenugui, or hand cloth, on the right. And what is a tenugui? From the wall text:
Tenugui (literally, "hand-wiping") are cloths used for many purposes, from head cloths for actors, festival revelers and cooks, to drying towels and sieving in cooking. Originating in the Heian Period (794-1192) they have become the "canvas" for designers and advertising, and wrapping for gifts. They are made of cotton, measuring 35 cm by 90 cm, and the ends are unfinished, to hasten drying.
When I was in Japan, I learned that many traditional-style ladies restrooms did not stock paper towels, so to dry my hands after washing I began packing my own tenugui in my handbag. These small textiles are also fun for home decorating and special hangers can be ordered from sites such as Etsy.
Cooking in Japan is largely based on seasonal availability of ingredients and this applies to garnishes too. Below is a delightful collection of twelve stainless steel cutters for vegetables, each shape relating to a month of the year. I've tried to label the image, and here's the list:
January: PineFebruary: NarcissusMarch: PlumApril: CherryMay: Spring GreensJune: BellflowerJuly: BambooAugust: GourdSeptember: ChrysanthemumOctober: GingkoNovember: MapleDecember: Fan
|Seasonally-themed garnish cutters.|
|Cutters decorate a wall - my photo doesn't do it justice.|
Another set of identical cutters formed a delicate display on a museum wall. This made me wonder if vintage cookie cutters might be displayed in a similar way; the decorating world is way ahead of me, as shown in this lovely photography by Polly Eltes, below.
Bento boxes, used for food transport, make an equally charming display. Talk about "a place for everything and everything in its place" - a complete tea ceremony set is nestled in its custom-made box, below.
|Bento boxes, practical and fun.|
|Tea ceremony set, neatly packed and ready to go.|
The cast iron teapots below are made by the Oigen foundry, in Oshu City, which has been in business since 1852; this region of Japan has been noted for iron work for 800 years. I'll end with a close up of the cat teapot, in a nod to my cat, who turned seventeen this year.
|Cast iron teapots.|