Sunday, 2 August 2015

Kitchen timers

You can tell that's a hastily-set-up photo, because I've smeared my lipstick, and some of it is on my front teeth. But I knew I couldn't replicate that precise manic expression, and so you must live with this one-and-only take - unvarnished, un-Photoshopped - but true and honest.

The subject of the photo is not me, but the new blue Colourworks kitchen timer I had bought at Austen's Home Hardware in Petworth. I already had a yellow one, bought earlier this year. Now I have a pair. Here they are together, in my kitchen:

Some people pooh-pooh kitchen timers. But I think they are an essential aid to cooking consistently. Let's face it, if you buy fresh meat, fish, or vegetables in standard weights or sizes from the supermarket, you can then devise (and stick to) standard timings for cooking them. For instance, I can confidently boil new potatoes for 22 minutes and be assured of a perfect result.

Tonight's evening meal is new potatoes, a sautéed courgette, and two little sea bass fillets. The yellow timer will be set for 22 minutes. Simultaneously the blue timer will be set for 6 minutes, so that the fish (smeared with butter, and well seasoned) will go in the pre-heated oven at the 16 minutes-to-go point. I then use the blue timer again to count down another 6 minutes, so that the courgette (sliced, pre-salted, washed, and drained) will be tossed into the pan at the 9 minutes-to-go point. Obviously I have to be personally present to sauté the courgette during those final 9 minutes, but using timers often frees me up to do other things in other rooms, and yet still not lose track of time. The timers call me back to the kitchen when something vital has to be done.

It's not just cooking. Right through the day, I make cups of tea with the blue timer set for one minute.

For me timers are an absolute necessity. I have no sense of passing time. And certainly none of that temporal 'intuition' annoying people sometimes claim, when they just 'know' when food has been cooking long enough. Well, lucky them! I resort to timing aids unabashed and without shame. And I don't care if 'real cooks' would not. In any case, I'm pretty sure that most professional cooks do in fact time things with an astonishing degree of accuracy - to a few seconds with some dishes - think of seafood - to ensure that the result is as intended, exactly as needed, and fit to be served to a paying (and, possibly, highly discerning) customer.

I did of course have another pair of timers before buying these two latest ones. And yet other timers before those, on and on back in time to my first cooking days.

The previous two, the ones that the yellow and blue timers have replaced, were an ill-matched pair bought on an emergency basis when I was caravanning at Cheddar in Somerset in 2011. I settled for what I could get in a hurry. Here they are, in the foreground of this next shot:

A hardware store in Bath called Kitchens was the source for the left-hand one; Wilkinson in Bridgwater supplied the one on the right. Both these little devices have given good service, but both are visually unappealing, and the blue-and-silver Wilko timer has always irritated me because the 'start/stop' button is not in the regular place. It also stands upright on a silly spindly leg, and will skitter about, or topple over, ever so easily. As is plain in the next photo:

Go on. Be honest. Admit it. When, ever, in all your past life, have you seen a photograph of four kitchen timers facing away from the camera? Hah! I thought as much. You never have. That, dear friends, is - literally - a unique shot.

The cheap and nasty and thoroughly annoying Wilko timer is now in the bin. Its shoes (do timers have shoes?) are now filled by the way-too-functional-and-clearly-designed-by-a-man-with-no-soul white and green timer, which at least does not fall over when you breathe on it.

The white and green timer may feel that it's been demoted from Important Kitchen Duties, but in fact it's now taking over a Vital Part-Time Job. For the Wilko timer had a Special Function. How can I put this? It timed my WIMP. That's my Weekly Invasive Medical Procedure. (Let us probe no further)

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Lucy Melford