Britishness, Cooking, Food and Drink

Turtons All The Way Down

I’m proud to come from a family that values its traditions.  Sometimes, those traditions take the form of my dropping everything, getting in the car in all my sweat and filth, racing up the road to Lowes or Home Depot before it closes, and buying the $.50 item which is the only thing preventing me from completing a major home remodeling project. (Thanks, Dad.  If I had any false teeth, I’d be sure to leave them at home, so as to frighten the locals even more.)

Sometimes, those traditions take the form of acquired tastes, which is how I find myself with an eclectic playlist on my iPhone which spans the gamut from Kiri Te  Kanawa to George Formby, and from  Edward Elgar to Tammy Wynette.  I can thank my mother for that.

When it comes to eccentricity, such folks abound on both sides of my family, maybe best exemplified by Great-Uncle Harold, who died of a hernia incurred after trying to lift his horse over a gate that the beast refused to jump. (Dad always said that Harold was the only person on my mother’s side of the family that he could have an intelligent conversation with.) Or perhaps by my paternal grandmother Louise who–it is rumored–bought the first pair of “bloomers” sold in Birmingham and who in her youth attended Professor Hubbard’s Academy for Young Lady Bicyclists at Bingley Hall (this would have been in the 1890s), in order to learn how to mount and dismount the machine with the modesty and decorum demanded by her sex.

In general (except for Great-Uncle Harold–see above), my mother’s side of the family was quite staid.  Good Methodists.  Churchy.  Quiet–perhaps even dour. Members of Napoleon’s dismissive portrayal of the British as “a nation of shopkeepers.”   In trade. But no less redoutable, for all that.

From that granny, I get my love of gardening.  And a lifelong hankering to recreate some of the treasures of her kitchen.  (No, not the scrag-end of mutton.  Or the boiled cabbage.  Definitely not those. More the cakes.  And the Yorkshire pudding.)

One of her signature kitchen tools was a pair of–apparently indestructible–scissors that she used for almost every job requiring a strong snip.  They were stainless steel (Sheffield), and had handles painted yellow. They sat next to the potato peeler with a wooden handle wrapped with string (go figure) which was inimical to me because it just didn’t work for a left-handed person at all, and the lengths of narrow bamboo sticks that she’d thread –through the saucepan handle on one side, through the lid handle, and then through the saucepan handle on the other side–to keep the lids on tight while the vegetables were steaming.

(And, boy howdy, did Granny know how to steam vegetables.  Within an inch of their life, until they gave up the unequal struggle, and until every one of them assumed a consistency and taste indistinguishable from all the rest.  This was a tradition she passed along to her daughter (my mother) and which–in a rare instance of rebellion–I’ve done my utmost to break.)

But back to those scissors in my granny’s kitchen.  I guess they really are indestructible.  My sister has them now, and uses them almost every day.

And a couple of years ago I heard from her–in a joyous conversation–that she’d tracked down the scissor manufacturers from the imprint on the blades, and that Ernest Wright–after a few setbacks–was still in business in Sheffield and still manufacturing handmade scissors of the sort in Granny’s kitchen.

And that’s how I came to have my very own–new–pair of Ernest Wright Turton kitchen scissors.  They’ll cut just about anything in the kitchen from herbs to vegetables to fish, to (most) chicken bones.  They’ll take the cap off a beer bottle.  They’ll crack a nut. (And what self-respecting girl wouldn’t love that as a feature?)

Sheffield stainless steel is–itself–part of the family history.  Grandpa (matched to the same Granny-with-the-scissors-and-the-mutton) worked all his life as an accountant for the Arthur Lee Steel Company in Sheffield.  I remember little trinkets scattered around the house emblazoned with the company logo–bottle openers, letter openers (remember them? ), and many more. Grandpa’s family originally came from an area around Sheffield known as “Handsworth.”  He moved to Birmingham–also a steel-producing center, to the suburb known as “Handsworth,” before he met Granny.  I’ve always wondered at the significance of that.  I guess it was just an early example of family honoring tradition.

No doubt, by now, some of you (who don’t know me all that well) are wondering: What the hell is my point?  And do I even have one?

Well, of course I do.  My roundaboutatious way of getting to it is just the price of admission.

These are beautiful kitchen scissors.  Handmade in Sheffield in the UK.  Ones which the Telegraph said might be the only “kitchen scissors you could actually give as a wedding present.”

If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for the person who has everything and who likes to cook, perhaps a pair of these will fit the bill.  They’re not cheap, and you have to order early, because–handmade.  They do ship to the US, and come beautifully packaged, together with a certificate signed by the Lord Mayor of Sheffield to the effect that:

The Sheffield City Council, desirous of preserving Sheffield’s reputation for craftsmanship and high quality, wishes to accord its tribute to manufacturers and goods which are recognised for these qualities.

Therefore, acting upon the advice of the Cutlery and Silverware Association, the City Council is please to approve the Coat of Arms of the City of Sheffield in association with specified products manufactured solely in Sheffield by Ernest Wright.

P.S.  Why are the scissors called “Turton?”  No idea.  It’s a common surname in Yorkshire.  Perhaps that has something to do with it.

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