Growing up, I was spoiled by my mom’s citrus peeler, a piece of flat, kidney-shaped stainless steel designed by Georg Jensen. It was (and continues to be) an essential part of her kitchen setup, helping her peel citrus without getting pith and rind stuck under her fingernails, or that impossible-to-clean film on her fingertips. Her peeler has a sharp little hook on one end that scores the rind as you drag it from the top to the bottom of your orange. She uses it to remove the fruit’s outer flesh in neat little sections. It’s beautiful — and clean — to watch her work.
Ever since I moved out, I’ve been trying to find a similar peeler of my own, but the sleek Georg Jensen one she has is vintage and very hard to buy. It’s even part of Cooper Hewitt’s collection of 20th-century design objects. As soon as one comes up for sale on eBay or Etsy, it gets snapped up by a collector. There are plenty of orange peelers on Amazon, like this and this, but none that have the elegance of my mother’s. I used my fingers for a while, but after being hit in the eye with the caustic oil from an orange peel one too many times, I started slicing my oranges into sections to eat. That was far from an ideal solution, however, because it meant losing the juice that always dribbled out onto my cutting board, and I couldn’t eat an orange on the fly in the park or on a car trip unless I packed the slices into a Ziploc bag, which turned into an even bigger mess.
Then one day while picking up lunch at Sunrise Mart in Soho, I found an acceptable stand-in. It’s not as sleek, and I doubt it will ever be featured in a design museum, but it does the same job at a fraction of the price. And it’s cute, a cheerful yellow bird with a sweet and friendly googly eye.
The bird, which I have named Gary, has three points for peeling: his beak, the end of his removable wing, and his tail. The beak is for cutting thick peels and the wing is for thinner peels, while the tail is designed to lift each section of peel off of the fruit once you finish scoring it. So much cleaner (and more efficient) than a fingernail, and all the hard work is done by your never-complaining avian kitchen assistant.
I’m pretty sure I will inherit my mother’s fancy peeler at some point, the way a parent might pass down a treasured family watch to their firstborn. But until then, I’m happy with Gary. Aside from the clean hands and levity he adds to my kitchen, he’s also caused my citrus intake to skyrocket now that it’s so much easier to eat. After months of being isolated and working from home, I had gotten lazy about eating healthy snacks, opting instead to gulp dry cereal by the handful. Now, though, whenever I walk past the citrus section in the supermarket, I think to myself, “Gotta get some oranges for Gary.”
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