Cranberry crank

Before our holiday gathering, I asked Joy about bringing the old- fashioned hand grinder to prepare the cranberries for cranberry salad.
“It really is neater to use the blender, but the hand grinder can be kind of fun for the kids. It is what we used for years.”
“I think Sophie would enjoy it,” she said.
So I pulled a chair across the kitchen floor and reached into the top shelf for the original, albeit worn-out, faded red cardboard box that holds our old-fashioned food grinder. I received it as a wedding gift from my Canadian college friend. She insisted it was essential to any household.
I accepted the gift, but had no idea how I would use it. I could not think of any time my sisters and I had used one when we cooked together at home.
But, I did find many uses for it during my first decade of canning fresh fruits and vegetables. I used it to make relish when I began canning food for the family. The twist of the handle with its wooden grip crunched crisply into cucumbers and onions – and sprayed my face with a fresh garden produce smell and onion juice to bring tears to my eyes.
I used it to add in a couple of carrots, exulting in the sound of the crunch of metal against a carrot still exuding a fresh earthy smell.
I even used it a couple times to reduce ham into ground ham for a salad. But, I never did learn to like cleaning the spiral of the grinder and the blades after those greasy experiences.
I did learn that shoving a couple o carrots or some other solid fruit or vegetable pushed out the last bit of meat while cleaning up most of the residue. But over time, we used the hand grinder less frequently, settling for using it only to prepare our traditional holiday cranberry salad.
The bouncing red berries easily fall into the stuffing funnel of the grinder so little fingers are not tempted to push them into the mechanism. The berries make a gratifying pop as we turn the handle and the rich red juice and pulp slowly accumulates in the catching bowls.
The only thing I never liked about it was the juice leaking from the unsealed joints when I used the grinder with berries and other juicy foods. I quickly learned to place a pie pan under the device after we clamped it to a table leaf, chair or board to keep from having to wash the floor afterward.
At the family gathering, the grandchildren eagerly surrounded us, impatiently waiting their turn at the handle. With only one pound of cranberries, we  made sure each had a turn to add berries and a turn swinging the handle.
The two-year-old insisted she be included with her almost four-year-old cousin and five-year-old brother. With the grinder clamped to a board only a couple feet off the ground, they all could stretch high enough to swing the handle or stand on the other side to carefully add handfuls of cranberries.
The children wound the handle round and round. Their mothers monitored and we all tried to snap a few photos of the little ones helping make our traditional cranberry salad. They loved the short task, just as had their father and mother.
Long ago, we all accepted the modern blender as a tidier, if noisier means for doing the same job. But seeing the little ones running over to help, eager to  control a simple machine and make it work reminded me again that even the youngest child will lend a helping hand at the day’s work – given an invitation and a chance to enter the adult world for a short time.

(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times. E-mail her at