Years ago, I was at an estate sale in town. It was on a small and quiet side street, at a modest little house on a small town lot. There was a neatly tended garden alongside the house, and an old grape arbor made from iron pipes by the back door. I found several wonderful and hard-to-find old kitchen gadgets for sale, and this cheese grater was one of them.
I remember my grandmother having a grater just like this, to process hard Italian table cheeses for cooking and pasta. Chunks of cheese go into the throat at the top, and turning the handle rotates a perforated drum against which the cheese is grated. Even though it's manually operated, it makes quick work of a block of cheese. I usually grate enough at one time to fill a plastic deli tub so I don't have to drag it out very often, but every time I do I'm glad I have it. It's one of those unique and handy tools that I'll probably hand down to my daughter when the time comes.
Every time I use that grater, I think of the woman from whose estate it came. I never met her when she lived, nor even found out her name. I knew her only from the items arrayed on the long tables in front of her house, and the furnishings and linens for sale inside. She must have been quite a cook. The canning jars, kettles, and tools spoke of jams and preserves and quarts of tomatoes. She made her own pasta, judging from the heavy cast-aluminum hand-cranked pasta mill. And she had dozens of recipes, written out in a small notebook, in Italian.
I bought a lot of the kitchenware that day - the family was letting it go at fire sale prices, and most of it was too cool and too useful for me to pass up. I paid for the boxes of stuff, and the woman running the sale helped me carry them out to my truck. As we put the boxes in the back, she tossed her grandmother's handwritten recipe notebook into one of the boxes.
"Are you sure you want to throw that in? It looks like those are your family recipes. You might not want to part with them."
"Yeah, right," she said. "None of us do any cooking. I'm really glad you came along and bought all that kitchen junk. We were afraid we'd have to throw it out."
"Um...thanks. See ya," I replied. What are you supposed to say to someone's casual disdain for their own family heritage?
So...thanks, nonna, whoever you were. Some of your stuff found a good home.