I’ve launched a new collaboration with Etsy this week: I’ll be blogging twice a month about making, doing and consuming in the kitchen. Look forward to history and adventures, all based on the treasures you can find on Etsy.
My first post was a whisk history–a humble kitchen tool that has changed design over the centuries, striving to make a laborious task, like beating eggs, simple and succinct. Read The Magic Whisk here here to follow me whisking up meringue by hand.
But before wire whisks were introduced in the 19th century, cooks made whisks from bundles of sticks. You can still buy modern whisks made with birch twigs, but they are fairly expensive: $20-$30. I was really curious to try one out, and test it against a modern whisk, but I had difficulty convincing myself to drop three tensies on sticks. Reading this, you probably think I’m nuts: “Go outside, get some sticks!” you’re thinking. Well, I live in New York and things aren’t so simple. In my neighborhood, I can get food from 30 different nationalities; But sticks we don’t got.
Recently, I had a chance to handle one of these birch whisks in person. I carefully turned it over in my hands, committing to memory the length and the weight of it, the texture and the stiffness of the straw-like twigs. Then I went to my local craft store to see if I could find something to replicate it. I noticed the store already had its “seasonal items” out and immediately thought “witch’s broom!” I scored one for $6. To make my reproduction whisk, I sliced off the tape that held bushy twigs them to the broom handle, rebundled them with kitchen twine, and trimmed the ends to an even length. It looked almost exactly like the authentic $30 whisk, and seemed to be a pretty good recreation of a pre-industrial whisk.
It was time to try out my pre-industrial whisk. I separated an egg, and set aside the yolk. I let the white warm to room temperature in a deep mixing bowl, and then I grabbed my twig whisk and went to town. It took a surprisingly short amount of time to make a stiff meringue–ten minutes, twelve seconds–although my biceps ached after half a minute. The twig whisk had a huge downside: as I whipped the eggs, hundreds of shards of whisk broke off into my meringue. Big sticks and tiny twigs peppered the egg froth. It’s possible that after you use the twig whisk several times, it would stop shedding its bits and pieces. But the first time through, it produced a voluminous, but woody, meringue.
I tested four more whisks and pitted them against my modern mixer; to see the results, head over to Etsy.