Growing up, there was always a small piece of whitish gray stone in the kitchen knife drawer. It was flat, about 2 inches square and not quite ½ inch thick, and had obviously been broken off of a larger piece of an Arkansas Stone. On a daily basis, it whetted the kitchen knives – all three of them. The butcher knife, a paring knife, and a utility knife were stored in a drawer next to the sink. They had belonged to my grandmother, were used by my mother and aunt, and still reside in the same drawer they’ve been in for more than 60 years. They aren’t some expensive brand of knife and they aren’t kept in a fancy wooden block. They are well cared for kitchen tools. I’m not sure when kitchen utensils in general, and knives in particular, became status symbols instead of utility items. Probably about the time we started watching TV cooking shows that tell us that if we only had this particular brand of knife, we could slice and dice at light speed with knife skills that would dazzle a professional chef, but maybe knives should be more than a status symbol.
I thought about that today as I pulled out my kitchen knives for a much needed sharpening session. They are of decent quality, but not the most expensive or popular brand. They’re mass produced knives. And you know what? They work. Really well. After a couple of decades of use. Today, after I ran them through the various grits of my Lansky Sharpening System, they sliced cleanly through a ripe tomato without squishing it. They were good to go, but the last thing I did was to hone them on my own Arkansas Stone – the same kind of whitish gray stone my grandmother used in her kitchen. It’s what I also use on a regular basis to just give my knives a quick touch up. I have a steel hanging in my kitchen, but it’s more decorative than utilitarian. More often than not, I find myself pulling out that stone and giving my knife a few strokes across it. It’s fast, easy, and effective, but I also just like the feel of the stone and the sound of the knife’s beveled edge sliding across it. It’s a sound that takes me back to a kitchen in Arkansas with its linoleum countertops, hand built cypress wood cabinets, and the sound of a knife being pulled across a stone before slicing up fresh garden vegetables or cutting up a chicken for dinner. That kitchen and the people who cooked in it provided me with some great memories. It’s also where I learned to appreciate a sharp knife.