Saturday, January 22, 2011

Oops! Seems I Owe the Inventor of the Microplane an Apology...

For those of you out there who may have attended my cooking demos, and heard me talk about the origins of the fabulous "Microplane," I have a confession to make. I had read somewhere that the inventor of this device was a carpenter, who had the idea to use one of his tools to grate the zest off a lemon--leading to the invention of one of the most valuable tools in my kitchen (and many other kitchens). Turns out this was not accurate, as I discovered by reading this article in the New York Times.

The Microplane was invented by Richard Grace, a founder of Grace Manufacturing, as a bona fide woodworking tool. He designed it originally to be used in a hacksaw frame (which explains the little holes at either end), and apparently added the rubber handle after he discovered that most of his customers were in fact cooks, who marveled at the smooth, precise cutting action. So it may well be that the culinary application of the Microplane was a carpenter's discovery, but the tool itself came first.

And I also would like to mention that Martha Stewart and others who refer to it as a "rasp," are giving a highly refined cutting tool an undeserved, rather brutish name. A rasp is a very coarse steel file, usually flat on one side and curved on the other, with large raised points that gouge and scrape off layer after layer of wood in a very crude manner (think of a raspy voice). This is not a finishing tool, by any means; it leaves rough, rutted marks that must then be sanded away. The closest relative to a rasp in the kitchen is the old grater that looks like someone poked a series of holes in sheet metal with a nail. While this was the go-to device for grating citrus zest and Parmesan cheese for many years, it cannot compare with the smooth operation and beautiful results afforded by the Microplane. Many times have my fingers slipped and been abraded while working with the venerable old box grater; never once on the new guy. The issue here is control. As the saying goes, "the most dangerous knife is a dull one." Whereas a scraping/gouging rasp is erratic and imprecise, a cutting/planing tool is reliable and exact. A final note: I still recommend the curved old-fashioned nutmeg grater (only for nutmeg), because it always worked well and because nutmeg is so small, the risk of cutting a finger is unacceptably high. Your call.

Full disclosure: No one is paying me a cent for this glowing appraisal of the Microplane (although a generous check from Grace Manufacturing would not be spurned). Like Martha and Oprah (and many others), I'm just stating the obvious. I would make a good spokesperson, though, don't you think?


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