On Mixing Bowls and Related Phenomena

The iconic Danish Margrethe Skål from Rosti Mepal, designed in 1954 by Jacob Jensen.

The iconic Danish Margrethe Skål from Rosti Mepal, designed in 1954 by Jacob Jensen.

As an avid cook (and one who was already being described as “highly opinionated” by an exasperated second-grade teacher in 1985), I have a lot to say on the matter of mixing bowls.

First of all, they are not the same as serving bowls, though the relationship between the two is less either-or and more Venn diagram, with the specifics depending a lot on intuitive factors. (For example, if you’re weekending in the woods, at a cabin furnished decades ago by somebody’s kitchen-averse hunting uncle, there is likely no distinction to speak of and you’ll be lucky if you find a bowl at all.) Typically, though, serving bowls are more elegant and better at keeping foods warm at the table, whereas mixing bowls are more rugged, better suited to drip-free pouring and often equipped with handy lids for food storage. Made of plastics, metal or hardy borosilicate glass, mixing bowls are also less breakable (if not completely shatterproof, and I speak from plenty of melamine-cracking experience). For me the choice is instinctive, and I tend to use mixing bowls for all the jobs that don’t entail presentation at the table.

Second of all, dishwashers. Nearly anyone who doesn’t already own one plans to get one, maybe when they move, maybe sooner than that. It’s a rare bowl that’s so special it should be allowed to collect a pool of water in its upturned bottom over the course of a dishwashing cycle. And certainly no mixing bowl of mine has got any business dripping hither and yon as I extract it from the dishwasher, being so high-maintenance that I actually have to pour water out of its foot and wipe it dry before I can put it away. Workhorse, people. Not show-pony.

The third point concerns use of the increasingly ubiquitous electronic kitchen scale, particularly when cooking and baking temperamental things like meringues and pandoro and flaky pie crust, where precise measurements really do help ensure proper and repeatable results. Not only does a scale obliterate the need for dirtying up multiple measuring tools, but with dry ingredients like flour and cocoa that trap varying amounts of air depending on transport and storage, weighing really is the only way to get accurate amounts. (In fact, a “glass” or “cup” often isn’t one at all, as I discovered when I tested the volume of every single cup and glass in my cabinet. Believe it or not, exactly none of them measured precisely 250 ml, nor did any measure the Yankee standard of 237 ml either. Did I mention that weight measures and deployment of the kitchen scale also removes ambiguity as to which country’s cup a recipe’s author had in mind?) Thus, the weight of a bowl in grams becomes relevant information, maybe worth embossing somewhere on the side of the bowl. So if you accidentally abandon your measuring to talk to that telemarketer and your scale shuts off automatically, resetting tare info, you have the option of doing the math yourself. Hear that, industrial designers? I’m talking to you.

Not a single “cup” among the lot!

Tangential to bowls are lids, and my fourth point concerns these. It has long been my wish to have a few reusable silicone covers that fit snugly over those standard-issue yogurt cups and sour cream pots. You know, the ones that come with a pull-tab foil top that invariably tears to shreds, but even when it miraculously doesn’t, it’s a far cry from recloseable. Some products come with a cheap plastic lid that fits over the foil, and I hold on to those when I can, reusing them while they last (which they don’t). Still, I can conjure what it is I’d rather have, and I’m surprised IKEA doesn’t sell it. (Though perhaps the real potential would be for a premium brand like Président, Danone or Piątnica to offer a loyalty promo, with, say, a dozen foil tops getting you a branded multi-use lid for closing off those pesky dairy product containers. Or for a kitchen storage or accessories manufacturer or a store’s private brand to sell such reusable covers—preferably next to the yogurt, at eye level... in a choice of colors that includes a very light grey...)

Back to the perfect mixing bowl. For me, it starts with the classic Margrethe Skål by Rosti Mepal, though improvements include maybe using something less breakable (and less toxic?) than melamine, like that famously “quiet” plastic known as polypropylene, which would arguably be even better if it weren‘t so scratch-prone and difficult to degrease. Though colors are fun, I’ve come to the conclusion that the serious cook’s bowl is white or clear, so that contents appear true. For added functionality, liquid measures could be printed or embossed on the inside and the bowl weight in grams would appear on the outside. The non-dripping rim would have a pouring spout and a lip for holding the bowl steady on the opposite side. The bottom should be non-skidding, but with no recessed water-pooling foot. And of course I would want a snug-fitting lid that goes over the bowl rim (and not cork-style into it) to maximize storage volume.

I offer these musings as part daydream, part sample English-language product writing and part homework for the participatory design course taught by Marta Morawska which I recently began to attend at Warsaw’s “ę” Creative Association. I have a feeling all this thinking about ergonomics just might lead to something interesting—which may or may not be a bowl.