Man landed on the moon, as far as I can tell, very many years before humankind invented the horizontal-handled potato masher. Uplifting the moon landings may have been, but as a technological leap forward, I’d say the horizontal-handled potato masher has incomparably more to offer humanity—not to mention being a damn sight easier to arrive at, ideas-wise.
It’s a case of the multiplication of tiny frictions, tiny inconveniences, that make daily tasks more irritating. For most of my childhood years, I remember labouring at the spud pan, the muscles of my hands aching with the grip, and never being more than a slip of the palm away from plunging my fingers into a whippy pile of boiling hot potato. There were work-arounds: you could wrap a tea-towel round the top of the handle and push down on it, if you didn’t mind ending up with a slightly potatoey tea-towel. But I remember thinking even then: there must be an easier way.
Yes, there are ricers; and some swear by a whizz with an egg beater. They do leave your mash wonderfully lump-free and creamy, albeit both are a bitch to wash up. In any case, neither is mandatory. The mashing head of an old-fashioned manual masher does its job perfectly well (provided it’s not made of bendy plastic).
But—how could the makers of these mashers not have thought of it?—the pressure you apply when mashing potatoes is vertical. So a T-shaped handle, allowing you to push down on the target, is no more than common sense. One can only assume that mashing technology fell victim to a cross-disciplinary brain drain: that between the 1940s and the 1980s all the available design talent, attracted by the glamour and superior promotion prospects of a career in rocket science, was busy working on the space programme.
When we talk about design, and especially when we use “designer” as an attributive adjective, we so often seem to be talking about aesthetics rather than function. The Philippe Starck lemon squeezer—you know the one; looks like a three-legged alien egg— is an acknowledged design classic, but is only semi-useful when it comes to the business of obtaining juice from lemons. You can keep your designer clothes and your expensive- but-uncomfortable designer furniture.
There’s nothing flashy about solving the masher problem and its like, but these problems are not trivial. Consider the countless lives affected, in almost subliminal…