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’s From the Back of the Drawer mystery item is a nut mill. Also known as a nut chopper or nut grinder, the nut mill is a time-conserving tool that many of us remember from our grandmothers’ kitchens. Though the shapes and decorations of vintage nut mills vary considerably, the basic components are simple and fairly uniform. Each mill consists of a glass jar attached to a box or lid that contains rotating blades. The blades are operated by a small handle and the jar collects the chopped nuts.
These handy choppers were undoubtedly put to use in many Southern kitchens where pecans have long been a staple ingredient. Though native to the Mississippi River Valley, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, pecan trees now grow throughout most of the Southeast and much of the Southwest. Native Americans in pecan-populated regions depended on the nuts as a major food source. European explorers and settlers also incorporated pecans into their diets, ensuring a permanent place for the nut in American cuisine. Today, pecans are also a significant part of the American economy, with the United States providing over 80% of the world’s pecans.
If you want to put your vintage nut mill to good use but need a little inspiration, check out one of the many pecan festivals across the country. From New Mexico to Texas (where the pecan tree is the official state tree) to North Carolina, you can pay homage to America’s favorite tree nut at a number of yearly festivals.
Our rating: Save it, or if you are thinking about buying one, consider finding a vintage nut mill. While nostalgia shades many online reviewers’ opinions, they also claim that the older glass and metal versions of the tool are sturdier than the newer plastic models.
Design: Simple, but useful, and also aesthetically pleasing. Many vintage nut mills feature cut glass jars or floral designs on the metal toppers.
Originality: Not particularly original—similar to other tools used to grind or chop foods.
Practicality: A good quality nut mill can save time and create less mess. However, if a recipe calls for larger pieces, hand-chopping may be a better option.
Sarah A. Torgeson, a senior studying History at Yale, is an intern at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.