Can anyone lend me an ice-cream maker? It's not that I can't find 49 quid, it's simply that I know the novelty will wear off after a few weeks and my shiny new Glacier will be stuffed into the back of the cupboard with the sandwich toaster (pounds 23.75), the citrus press (pounds 17.75) and the pasta machine (pounds 31). I have nothing against kitchen gadgets. On the contrary, my kitchen is full of them but I'm not buying any more. Culinary clutter may seem like a recent phenomenon but a mere glance in grandma's pantry reveals a wealth of rusty nutmeg graters and mincers with 27 moveable parts all designed to lighten the housewifely load. For your mother's generation the great time-saving device was the pressure cooker, a large, potentially explosive saucepan that most women were simply too frightened to use. On the rare occasions when anyone felt like knocking up a steam roly-poly in minutes, no one was ever able to find the lid. Remember the Chicken Brick? Terence Conran's fortune was made when Habitat began marketing this curious terracotta box as a means of pot-roasting poultry. Along with the fondue set and the avocado dishes this was one of the great dust- gatherers of the late Sixties kitchen. By the late Seventies the food processor was the must-have item but the day they started selling huge chicken-shaped Magimix cosies to keep the dust off you knew the storm had passed. But at least the Magimix (pounds 139) was versatile. The truly useless kitchen gadget should really only have one, ideally rather recherche function. Much smarter. The possession of a fish kettle and an asparagus kettle suggests a huge kitchen, a fondness for extravagant entertaining and more money than sense.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of the gadgets mentioned so far; asparagus kettles cook the stalks without turning the spears to mush, home-made pasta is delicious, but many gadgets do not have even utility to recommend them. The Lakeland Plastics catalogue, spiritual home of kitchen clutter, is packed with preposterous ideas for complicating your life: grapefruit corer, butter melter, spoon rest, tea bag squeezer. Don't sneer; it could happen to you. One day, blood sugar falling, you will find yourself sending off for some superfluous whatsit. Your need for it, its very function will be forgotten before the package ever arrives. Years later a houseguest will be rummaging through your odds and sods drawer (an unholy jumble of swizzle sticks, dud corkscrews and birthday cake candles): "What the hell is this?" "Ah", you mumble "That's my caper spoon". "Your what?" Yes. Readers of the latest Lakeland Plastics catalogue are encouraged to wave goodbye to soggy caper misery with this handy spoon (pounds 2.95).
Once in a while a gadget enters your life and changes the way you cook and eat. The microwave is one such device, the breadmaker may well become another. You laugh. It's expensive (pounds 199) but it has none of the fiddle associated with other so-called labour savers. You don't have to faff about making dough or mixing custard: you put in the ingredients, shut the lid, press the button and four hours later your kitchen smells like Little House on the Prairie and there's a finished loaf of bread inside. I use mine every day. And no, you can't borrow it.