30 March 2017

'Garlic Presses are Utterly Useless' by Elizabeth David

Posted by Elizabeth David

Is There a Nutmeg in the House? is the second volume of Elizabeth David's selected journalism, published posthumously as a companion to An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. One of her most famous pieces, 'Garlic Presses are Utterly Useless', begins as a review of John Tovey's cookbook, Feast of Vegetables, but quickly spins off into a brilliant rant against pointless kitchen gadgetry. What she would've made of today's world of spiralizers and internet-enabled kettles is something we'll sadly never get to read about.

...It is when we get to the subject of garlic that I really warm to Mr Tovey. What he has to say about its preparation is alone worth the price of the book. The passage should be reproduced in large type, framed and sold in gift shops for the enlightenment of gadget-minded cooks the length and breadth of the land. In the manner of those pious thoughts which once adorned the walls of cottage parlours, proclaiming that God is Love, or Drink is the Pick-me-up which lets you Down, Mr Tovey's text is concise and to the point. Readers, heed him please: 'I give full marks to the purveyors of garlic presses for being utterly useless objects.'

I'd go further than that. I regard garlic presses as both ridiculous and pathetic, their effort being precisely the reverse of what people who buy them believe will be the case. Squeezing the juice out of garlic doesn't reduce its potency, it concentrates it and intensifies the smell. I have often wondered how it is that people who have once used one of these diabolical instruments don't notice this and forthwith throw the thing into the dustbin. Perhaps they do won't admit it.

Now here's John Tovey again. The consistency you're looking for when adding garlic to a dish is 'mushy and paste-like'. Agreed. It is quickly achieved by the crushing of a peeled clove lightly with the back edge of a really heavy knife blade. Press a scrap of salt into the squashed garlic. That's all. Quicker, surely than getting the garlic press out of the drawer, let alone using it and cleaning it. As a one-time kitchen-shop owner who in the past has frequently, and usually vainly, attempted to dissuade a customer from buying a garlic press, I am of course aware that advice not to buy a gadget which someone has resolved to waste their money on is usually resented as bossy, ignorant, and interfering. At least now I am not alone.

'Garlic Presses are Utterly Useless' is taken from Is There a Nutmeg in the House? published by Grub Street. Elizabeth David is our Author of the Month for March; find out more about her here.