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Some outdated household accessories are priceless when it comes to sentimental value. Here's a true tale of one DIYer's quest to preserve her grandmother's old-fashioned hand mixer -- and her memory.

My grandmother, Theresa, and I on Thanksgiving 1984. Photo: Kristine Solomon


I grew up with a passion for baking thanks to my grandmother, a woman who made domesticity look glamorous long before Martha Stewart became famous for it. We made cakes, loaves, muffins and of course, Thanksgiving pies -- all with an old-fashioned hand mixer. Not a battery-operated KitchenAid mixer. I'm talking about the type that operates on elbow grease and a handheld crank (in a lovely, retro shade of robin's egg blue, no less. Even her kitchen appliances were stylish).

My grandmother passed away a few months before Thanksgiving 2007, rather suddenly, at the age of 81. The task of sorting through her stuff a few weeks later was a bittersweet experience: Part of me felt I was invading her privacy, and the other part indulged in the nostalgia these items stirred up inside me. Her collection of scarves -- Pucci, Yves St. Laurent, Chanel -- all smelled like her perfume (they still do). Her mid-century modern, periwinkle blue espresso cups were still in (almost) pristine condition. They're displayed on my kitchen shelf now.


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And, of course, there was the hand mixer I remembered so fondly. The one we used so many times to make so many desserts, all of which were delicious and made from scratch (Italian grandmas are the best cooks, I tell you). The mixer was tattered but proud; operating smoothly, despite its chipped hand crank and its missing plastic handle. I took the relic and stored it in my utensil drawer, making a mental note to repair when I got a chance.

Fast forward three years. With Thanksgiving 2010 approaching, I came across the old mixer again, with its telltale signs of having beat a few too many batters. Could I really fix this outdated hunk of metal? I don't even know the manufacturer. And even if I did, I highly doubt they sell replacement handles at this point. When I tried to use it, I'd just grab onto the metal bar, where that robin's egg blue plastic handle once was. The sharp, bare metal bar. "No, that won't hurt my hand. Not a bit. I'm tough." Famous last words, as my grandmother would say. After just three cranks, the metal handle dug into my hand and I knew I'd never be able to use this mixer again. Not in its current state anyway.

So I had this crazy idea: I'd make a handle for it. Out of what, though? I wasn't sure. I'd have to MacGyver it. I'd need materials that were waterproof and had a comfortable hand feel. Piece of cake.

My first idea was to use modeling clay, then paint it once it hardened. But I'd have to bake the clay, and I certainly didn't want to risk putting the entire hand mixer in the oven. Nothing good could come out of that. Then I thought silicone might work. Plenty of kitchen utensils are made of this waterproof, heat-resistant material. Problem was, I didn't really know where to get silicone. Then it hit me: foam rubber! Covered in...something waterproof.

My first stop was Canal Rubber in NYC, a garage-like shop filled with every type of rubber you could imagine. I knew they'd have something that could serve as a cushion for my new handle. I explained my odd project to the store employee: "I have this old hand mixer. It was my grandmother's. We used to bake with it together. I want to fix the handle so I can use it again . Do you recommend any specific type of foam rubber?" He met my request with a blank stare, then ambled over to pile of neoprene sponge rubber mats and handed me one.

"Do you suggest I wrap this around the metal handle?" I asked. He replied, "I suggest you go out and buy a food processor."

That's when I realized it must seem slightly crazy to other people that I was, essentially, trying to make the Frankenstein monster of kitchen tools, when there was a home improvement center just down the block. One that sold many types of inexpensive, 21st century power mixers. I couldn't expect the rubber store employee to understand that a dilapidated, manually operated hand mixer circa 1970 was one of my most prized family heirlooms, could I? Of course not. But also, I didn't care. I'm a DIYer, meaning I have the creativity and talent to give a sentimental object new life. That's the beauty of DIYing, isn't it? Repair, reuse, reinvent. I pressed on.

Next was Canal Plastics, a store that, as advertised, had products for all of my plastic needs. I finally decided on a thin sheet of plastic that was glossy white on one side and shiny silver on the other. Armed with Gorilla Glue and my imagination, I got to work.

First I tried wrapping the foam rubber around the handles, but the handle became too bulky to hold comfortably. Next idea: I wrapped two pieces of foam individually with plastic to create two separate cushions, then glued one cushion to either side of the metal handle. A few attempts and several stuck fingers later (Gorilla Glue is really sticky), I had a fully functioning hand mixer with a comfy cushioned handle, all shiny silver to match the stainless steel body.

Now, after all these years, I can start baking again with the hand mixer my grandmother used all those years ago when she was teaching me to bake. And I'm thankful indeed! Will I still use an electric mixer? Probably sometimes. Not always, though. My grandmother never had one, and I guess she never knew what she was missing. Come to think of it, she also had nice arms.

So this Thanksgiving, I know for sure I'll be making a pumpkin pie, and I know what I'll be using to make it. Of course, I don't expect my pumpkin pie to be as good as my grandma's. Maybe one day I'll figure that part out.


  • lita

    I don't find your desire to this to hang on to those special moments with your grandmother the least bit silly. Bless your heart for hanging in there and finding a solution to the problem. Your grandmother would be proud, I'm sure. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Reply
  • Hali

    I am sure it is a well made mixer. I bought a similar hand mixer from Crate and Barrel once and it had lasted a couple of uses (mixers detached and came off altogether). Also, when I cranked it I used to get shaved metal into my batter. It was "made in China" crap. Some tools are sentimental and you can't replace them. I have a small ss ladle my mom gave me when I first had my own apartment. She bought it back in 1950-s in Moscow, the former USSR.

    Reply
  • Sonya Ehrich

    They sure don't make things like they used to!! I swear, they make things to fall apart on purpose just so we'll have to buy a new one again soon. And aren't we supposed to be trying to be green?! That doesn't sound very green to me!!


  • Ellen

    Love this blog about your grandmother!
    Here is a great blog about sharing memories, please feel free to post! You need not be a babyboomer!
    Ellen

    http://thebloomingbabyboomers.lifesparknetwork.com/

    Reply
  • Pam

    I have to laugh... I thought I was the only person that treasured an old hand mixer. I received one in 1973 for a wedding gift and when it broke a couple of years ago, I couldn't locate one to replace it. When my mother in law died last year I inherited hers with great excitement! A couple of months later one was being placed on a shelf at a second hand store. Needless to say, I couldn't grab it quick enough! The employee saw my excitement and asked "what is that?"

    I'll think of you Kristine when I use it on Thanksgiving!

    Reply
  • Babe

    Your best bet to find old kitchen utensils is at antique stores; thrift shops; and on eBay. Between the three, I have never been disappointed. 5 years ago, I found the exact duplicate of a certain 1950 camera on eBay that my husband had loved, but lost while river-rafting. The seller sold it for only ten dollars because he thought it was broken, but when it arrived, the camera was like new and not broken at all. The guy simply didn't know how the film advancer worked on that particular camera model. It also had the original leather case in mint condition!

    I've found a 1928 waffle iron that still worked, and a beautiful porcelain coffee maker from the same era, when electricity was first being used for appliances. You can also find many old utensils from the 1950's and 60's, all made in the United States, and still in excellent working condition.


  • Helen

    we had one growing up, called it an egg beater. mom used it to make duncan hienz cakes that never quite came out even. Nothing like a kitchen aide.

    Reply
  • Erin

    This is my family's first Thanksgiving without my grandmother who passed away one month ago. She was never a very good cook, but, boy, could she bake. This year its my job to make the Thanksgiving desserts in her absence. I'm making everything that she would have made in memory of her. Your own story hit home with me; I'm glad that we are both going to be carrying on the family traditions this year.

    Reply
  • Mona

    I love your story, and I cried through the entire reading, still crying. I loved your grandmother's baking, I adored her orange cake and her marble cake were my absolute favorites. I was your age or younger than you are in the photo, when I first met your Mom and Grandma, all those years ago, when I started enjoying her wonderful cakes. I loved to be at her house when she baked, it smelled so happy and we got the best treat when it was done. I have a couple of those wonderful memory items from my Mom and my Aunt and I pay homage to them when I use the items the same way they did. There is nothing like looking at them to bring back the memories. Grandma Tessie looks so beautiful in this photo, just as I remember her. I love this story, I would have loved it even if I didn't know you all, and I hope to hear more like it. You do her proud, you certainly do.

    Reply
  • stilldezzin

    Brings tears to my eyes. I had to go through my folks' stuff several years back in prep to moving into their -- now my -- home. The things I kept are treasures, most in excellent condition including this same type of mixer, a vintage MixMaster in "one shade fits all" white (with bowls!), spatulas in robin's-egg blue, powder pink, harvest gold and avocado green, and even Mom's double-oven Magic Chef range, top of the line in 1976 when she bought it. Message to anyone who still has their elders around -- SAVE THE TREASURES WHILE YOU CAN. Later on, you'll wish you had. Trust me on this.

    Reply
  • Arlene

    Great story!! I too believe it or not still have my grandmothers hand mixer. It is stainless steel and the handle is made of wood. Over the years the red paint I guess it was has worn awy but wooden handle still fine. Oh and yes it still works. The good old days and the memories that are left in our hearts. Thanks for sharing that story. Arlene

    Reply
  • mary ann

    Such a great story. Kristine your Grandmother was a beautiful lady. You can feel the love between you two in the picture. Guess what! I also have (I think) a hand crank mixer. I also loved it. It was quick to use, at least for easier batters. Mine may have been a bit older. It has a wooden handle that is cracked from age but still works. We inherited it with a summer house we bought in Michigan. I think it may have been bought in the fifties or sixties. I haven't been in the house in years, so I'm not sure if its still there. I'm tempted to drive over to see if it is. Have a great Thanksgiving. I will share this story with my family.

    Reply
  • Ashli

    I do the exact same thing. I have my great great grandmothers mixer and use it every Thanksgiving and Christmas to make pies with. Even though she isnt here with us, its wonderful to know that her memory lives on.....

    Reply
  • Tara

    Whoa!!! That lady holding you was 58 in picture??? That was one youthful pretty lady, amazing even. Nice article of sentimentality. We need more feel good articles online.

    Reply
  • Bevan

    Thank you so much for the memories! Your article brought back so many of my memories about my childhood and my grandmother ... and it was totally awesome to see her mixer (they were called egg beaters when I was growing up in Westchester County) ... a real walk down memory lane with stops at some of the most important parts of my life. I hope you and your family have a very Happy Thanksgiving ... and especially enjoy your pumpkin pie! Your grandmother would want you to!

    Reply
  • Mary

    Beautiful story Kristine, memories are the greatest gifts and thank you for sharing.
    In our high tech world, it is so welcoming to return to the less complicated lives that we all had in the days of using a hand mixer. Treasure it and use it!!!! The perfect tool to make whipped cream.
    Have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving.

    Reply
  • wayne

    What a great story--you touched a nerve that brought fond memories of my loved ones. You can write any time about the days and people that influenced us .

    Wayne

    Reply
  • Dannie

    I have this exact same mixer, with the exact same missing (formerly robin's egg blue) handle. I inherited it when my beloved Gran died this summer, at age 95. This is our first Thanksgiving away from her home. Oh, how I miss her. I am going to tough it out and mix the pumpkin for the pie with the old mixer, just to feel that she is a little closer. Please, everyone, cherish your family and give thanks for them, this holiday and always. Remember to tell them how you feel about them. Do it for them, for yourself, and in some small way, for me, too. I wish you all a holiday filled with wonderful food and lots of love.

    Reply
  • Elle

    That was a sweet story. This will be my first Thanksgiving without my beloved mother and what a "good cooker" she was.

    Reply
  • Amanda

    Thank You for sharing such a sweet story. My Granny has been gone a few years now and our holidays are not the same without her. She stayed up all night cooking for the whole family to gather together the next day and feast upon her wonderful cooking. Nobody cooked like my granny cooked. I miss her so much and all of the fond family memories we shared . Especially this time of year.

    Reply
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