Mashing a large pot of cooked potatoes is hard work if you don’t have the right tool, and it’s the first thing I farm out to a willing helper with a strong arm. You could use one of those immersion blenders with the scary sharp blade, but pureed potatoes can easily turn gluey. What you need is a simple old-fashioned masher, made from a rod with multiple bends, that powers easily through the spuds to the bottom of the pot. For a finer mash, follow up with the kind made from one round plate with holes in it. That one works well on cooked egg yolk too, for deviled eggs.
Another indispensable old-time tool is the hand-turned food mill. I don’t use this for mashed potatoes because it removes the nutritious skin, but it’s perfect for applesauce. Turning the handle forces the cooked apple pulp through holes, leaving skin, core and seeds behind. It does the same for tomatoes (raw or cooked) and any soft fruit. Would-be canners and freezers will need more volume; give them a hand-powered, auger-driven strainer that clamps onto the kitchen table. Brands include Victorio and Squeezo.
The latest kitchen miracle tool is actually an old tool repurposed. The company Microplane once focused on well-made carpentry implements — until cooks started using its rasps to grate cheese. So it added a full line of food graters that are effortless to use and easy to clean, with tastier, prettier results. Cheese grated on the fine holes of the usual box grater clogs the holes, but a Microplane thrusts it through to form airy piles.
For little money, cooks can collect paddle-shaped graters that grate, grind, zest, shave or turn into ribbons everything from cabbages and onions to coconut and ginger. The day I saw chef-author Gabrielle Hamilton on TV grating garlic with a Microplane, I knew I would never fuss with a garlic press again.
Which brings me to the subject of books for the gardener or cook. Hamilton has followed her lively memoir “Blood, Bones and Butter” with a cookbook called “Prune,” named after her wonderful little restaurant in New York. For me it’s a must-have. And for loved ones for whom the aesthetics of the garden and table are part of both sustenance and taste, I’ll give Sara Midda’s latest little gem, “A Bowl of Olives.” Not for the farsighted, it fits inside a stocking, offers a visual feast, and suggests, among other insights, a tantalizing marriage of fennel and prawns.