From the Back of the Drawer: The Greater Grater


GEORGE OLIVER


Each week, we rummage through the dark corners of our kitchen drawers to bring you an enigmatic item. We ask you to guess what it is in our weekly From the From the Back of the Drawer puzzle. To enter this week’s puzzle, visit this page. To read more descriptions of past items, visit this page. And, don’t forget to donate your odd items to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

This week, we found The Greater Grater!

Back in the early 1800s, Jacob Bromwell, a frontier entrepreneur, started a housewares company that is still producing basic kitchen tools today. One of his inventions was a four-sided, box grater that most of us probably own or have seen in our parents’ kitchen. Another grater produced by Bromwell was this oval tin grater called “Bromwell’s Greater-Grater”, produced in the early 1900s. The original label said “Easy to use—Grates rapidly—Safe and Sanitary—For all Grating Purposes.”

The grating surface is a punched surface with small holes, much like the “fine” side of the box grater. As such, it’s probably not the best choice for moist items like fresh ginger or soft cheeses since it would be hard to clean, although some older folks remember them being used to scrape the peels off of potatoes. It would work for grating citrus skins.

It certainly works for hard cheeses, spices, and bread. Indeed SoFAB’s director, Liz Williams, remembers her mother using it to make bread crumbs with stale bread.

The company still makes the box grater, but discontinued this model last year because of falling sales. At the time it was discontinued, it was called the Lexington Hand Grater. However, because there are many around, both the old and new ones are easy to find on the web for under $10 if you’re a collector or just like the idea of using this model.

Historical Note:  There is a standard story repeated on the internet claiming that the cheese grater was invented by the Frenchman François Boullier in the 1540s. It was, supposedly, during a time when there was a cheese glut and much of the cheese was getting hard before it could all be sold.  It was then supposedly reinvented by a Philadelphia businessman in the 1920s using Boullier’s idea because of a similar glut of hard cheeses. However, there are a number of facts about this story that are difficult to verify and repeated errors in the retold story which suggest that much of the tale may be full of holes.

Our Rating: A decent fine grater for certain purposes, especially hard foods.
Design: Fits on one hand comfortably.
Originality: The “mitten” design sets this apart from most graters.
Practicality: If you need a fine grater, it’s as good as any, but a box grater will work as well if less comfortably.

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