The Death of the Kitchen Timer

Tomato timer 2
Paola White's tomato timer

The Death of the Kitchen Timer

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed a delightful 86 year-old woman called Paola - a Tuscan who has lived in England for more than 60 years. It was for my next book.

When we got to the end of the interview, I asked Paola what she was doing the next day and she said what she really needed to do was to go into town and buy a new kitchen timer. Hers, shaped like a tomato, had finally broken for no reason after many years of service.

She was puzzled to find that none of the shops she had looked in so far seem to sell kitchen timers any more. ‘I think it’s because people use their phones’, I said. ‘I have a phone!’, Paola said.

But then she looked very thoughtful and said ‘I quite like my little timer’. And I knew how she felt, and that a phone would be no substitute for her little tomato timer.

It struck me, not for the first time, that the tools we reach for in the kitchen are never just a question of what is useful or what works most efficiently - the most important thing is how a tool makes us feel when we are in the kitchen. Paola’s timer was clearly a companion to her in a way that a phone is not.

Paola's tomato timer

It reminded me of something I wrote in my book CONSIDER THE FORK about egg-timers. Timing boiled eggs is one of the very few practical occasions we still use the medieval technology of the sandglass. If sandglass egg-timers endure, it is surely because of their symbolic value:to watch the sands of time running out is still a powerful thing.


Do you still use a kitchen timer? And what is your favourite old-fashioned tool?