We’ve all got that one item in our kitchens that evokes nostalgia, whether it’s a cast iron skillet passed down from generation to generation, an apron used by a loved one, or even just a beaten up spoon we learned to cook with. If we shop correctly, today’s “the best of” kitchen gear can become tomorrow’s heirlooms, eventually becoming tied to our relationships with other people, and even our relationship with food. The Serious Eats team recently got to talking about the gear that sparks nostalgia for us, and below we’ve shared some of the stories (and items!) we hold near and dear to us. These are the items that summon joy, wash us with nostalgia and warmth, make us think of people who are no longer with us, and inspire us to continue the tradition of passing our beloved items down to the next generation.
When I was a kid, going to New Jersey to visit my grandparents for Easter meant access to two very important things: a bunny-shaped cake (complete with marshmallow puff tail) and my great grandmother's pierogi. She always brought the latter in a Corningware dish, lifting the glass top to reveal the plush dumplings swimming in butter with flecks of onion sprinkled on top. And while the Corningware dish was nondescript, whenever I use one, I can't help but wish it was filled with her pierogi. —Grace Kelly, associate commerce editor
I grew up in a shellfish-eating family. My mom's roots on the Eastern Shore of Maryland meant crab feasts every time we went down to visit family, and my aunt's many years on Cape Cod meant summers full of lobster. These HMQ vintage nut and shellfish crackers were always on the table. Invented by Henry Marcus Quackenbush (apparently also the man responsible for the extension ladder), they have a textured pattern cast into each of the two metal rods that are connected by a spring-jointed hinge, and that texture plays into my memory—it's so easy to not only see them in my mind, but feel them in my hand. —Daniel Gritzer, senior culinary director
My grandma collected pie birds. They're basically little figurines meant to vent double-crusted pies. From my understanding, they're not super necessary now thanks to modern, heat-stable ovens. However, I'll always love pie birds. At the height of her collection, my grandma had hundreds. Growing up, my mom and I would scour flea markets to try to find unique pie birds for her. Sadly, when my grandma moved into a nursing home, she gave away the majority of her birds. (I got one—a pheasant.) When she passed away in September, I asked my mom if there were any more pie birds in my grandma's storage. And that's how I got my second one: It's a little, brown bird with a chipped beak. It looks like it's seen better days, but it will never not have a permanent place in my kitchen. —Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm, senior commerce editor
Every Sunday, my entire family would gather at my grandparent's home for dinner. My grandma had a huge green Tatung rice cooker that we'd all get our rice from. I don't remember what size she had, but it was big enough to feed our huge family; my dad has six siblings and there were probably 20 to 25 of us gathered there each week. It's an incredibly nostalgic piece of equipment for me, and if I had more space at home, I'd definitely buy the 6-cup model for myself! —Genevieve Yam, culinary editor
For as long as I can remember, my mom has had these plastic dumpling molds. We use them every year during Ramadan to make one of my favorite foods, sambusak, which is a dough filled with spiced meat (similar to an empanada) and fried until golden perfection. They're an emblem of my childhood and my mom's cooking. I can't remember a time when I opened the kitchen drawer and they weren't in there! —Yasmine Maggio, associate editor
Wellfleet, MA is famous for its oysters, but its clams are (in my eyes) just as good, and some of my most precious childhood memories are of going with my grandfather, my brother, and our parents to dig for clams at low tide. My grandfather died a few years ago, and these days, my grandmother lives almost the entire year in Florida, so it’s a tradition that has mostly come to an end. But every year when we visit the Cape, I’ll go into the garage to look at my grandfather’s rusty, dented clamming bucket, and every year (whether we’re able to use it or not) my grandmother buys the resident’s clamming license. It’s a struggle for her to mount the dunes which lead to the shore, and she can’t stand for very long, but she and my wife and I do our best to fill a bucket that never seems quite as full as it was when we were all clamming together. —Jake Dean, updates editor
When we were kids, we used to wake up to my dad grinding coffee with this old hand-cranked antique every morning. He was so proud of himself when he upgraded to an electric blade spice grinder, not realizing that the Zassenhaus used conical burrs and produced a more even grind. When I went away to college and became obsessed with coffee, the antique was passed down to me, and then I was the one cranking its handle every morning for my French press. As an antique, it lost most of its precision years before I started using it, and while my coffee quality greatly improved when I got my first electric burr grinder, I kept this grinder on the shelf. It wasn't until years later that I learned my grandma brought it with her from her family's farm in upstate Minnesota, and that it's actually been in our family for generations. —Jesse Raub, commerce writer