Finally ground down to alter unshakable tenet of togetherness


August 10, 1994|By ROB KASPER

I have never met a combination salt shaker and pepper grinder that I liked.

By itself, a salt shaker is a practical kitchen helper. The same can be said for a pepper mill. But when the two get together, it's like Abbott joining up with Costello, Beavis with Butt-head. The result is trouble.

The pepper mill stops grinding and when, in anger, you turn the device over to examine the bottom of the grinder, the salt pours out the top. It is one of life's minor, but persistent, frustrations. You would think that a society that has come up with the microwave oven, the frost-free refrigerator and the cupcake with the creamy surprise inside could come up with a dependable combination salt shaker and pepper mill. But it has not.

Each time I go into a kitchen supply store and buy yet another combination salt shaker and pepper mill, I tell myself that this time it will be different. This time the thing will work.

That is what happened to me recently. Our old combination salt shaker and pepper mill had kissed the bricks. It was being carried from the backyard into the house when it took a dive toward the brick patio. The result of this accident was that the salt shaker part of the apparatus ceased salting. The pepper mill part of the device, of course, had long since stopped working on a regular basis. Instead of getting involved in the daily grind, the pepper mill has chosen to work occasionally, like a consultant.

And, as I walked into the kitchen supply store to buy a replacement, I checked my frame of mind. Maybe the reason I kept ending up with losers on the salt and pepper circuit was that I had a bad attitude. Maybe there was a good combination salt shaker and pepper mill out there, but I wasn't willing to seek it out. Maybe, at some level deep in my subconscious, I wanted to be disappointed by my choice of combination salt shakers and pepper mills. Maybe I was a willing victim of the salt shaker and pepper mill syndrome.

I became an assertive consumer. I examined all the models. I asked questions. I looked at the insides of the grinder and, as best I could, gave them trial runs. I did not see any peppercorns in the store, so I worked the mill mechanisms with the peppercorn holders on empty.

As I looked over the various models, I felt that old familiar feeling. The appeal of the combination salt shaker and pepper mill with its simplicity of design washed over me. It was a statement of harmony. Besides, if you put the salt and pepper in one container, you only have to pass one device around the table. So I shelled out $10 for a 6 1/2 -inch tall, acrylic, combination pepper mill and salt shaker with stainless steel mechanisms.

It looked terrific on the kitchen table. But when I loaded it up with peppercorns, it made a few half-hearted grinds, then quit. I called the store and asked to speak to their salt-and-pepper-shaker expert. I got a clerk, who in the end told me to bring the troublesome device back to the store.

This time when I went to the store I was toting peppercorns. A friendly woman working behind the counter couldn't get the old device to work either. She contended that the mill had a defective part. She invited me to get a replacement off the shelf. I loaded the replacement with peppercorns to see if the mill would work.

After some coaxing, it did perform repeatedly. The clerk and I put it through so many trial grinds, that by the time I left, the store counter was covered with pepper flakes. When I got the device home, however, it stopped grinding. I sat at the kitchen table, trying to think of philosophical explanations for my situation.

Perhaps the pepper mills did not work because people don't really want heaps of freshly ground pepper sprinkled on their food. Maybe all we want is the appearance of special treatment, of pepper being ground especially for us. Maybe these dramatic sweeps of the pepper mill over plates of food were like air kisses at cocktail parties, all show and no substance.

Maybe, but that is not the way I feel about pepper. I like the flavor and I like the gritty thrill of grinding peppercorns into flakes. So I pushed the device aside, and pulled out something I had bought just in case the combination pepper mill and salt shaker should disappoint me yet again. I pulled out a new pepper mill and a new salt shaker. They were separate containers. After years of trying to bring salt and pepper together I had conceded that each was better off going its separate way.

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