One old timey kitchen tool that seems to be regaining in popularity is the cone shaped sieve. These odd looking sieves are usually made of aluminum, and come equipped with a stubby wooden mallet and a standing rack that fits neatly over a soup kettle or large bowl. Many people call these cone shaped sieves a “chinois” which isn’t completely accurate. A chinois (a French loanword meaning “chinese”) is a conical sieve with a very fine mesh screen. The chinois is used for straining sauces, soups, and custards for a finer texture.
Grandma’s old cone shaped sieve is not designed for this kind of delicate kitchen use. Instead, it functions more as a vegetable or fruit masher, for filtering seeds & skin, or as a large food mill. For scratch cooks and home canners, the cone shaped sieve is an invaluable kitchen tool.
So what is this piece of kitchen equipment really called? The manufacturers’ name seems to be the “aluminum sieve”, though here in the US it’s referred to by all sorts of names. Ricer, puree sieve, vegetable masher, applesauce maker, cone shaped colander, china cap, or colander with masher & stand are just a few of the names I’ve run across. The term my mother-in-law and I both use is the fruit & vegetable masher.
Using your grandma’s cone shaped sieve in the kitchen. Using the cone shaped sieve is pretty easy. To help you along, here’s some step-by-step instructions:
1. Pare and cube fruit or vegetable to be cooked. OK to leave skins on tomatoes, grapes and berries.
2. Gently boil fruit or vegetable for 5-10 minutes, until tender. Strain, setting aside liquid for now.
3. Place the sieve over a large bowl. Carefully pour the drained, cooked vegetables or fruit into the sieve.
4. Use the mallet (or pestle) to mash the pulp through the tiny holes. One trick that works for me is to alternate between mashing and rolling the pestle to work the cook fruit or vegetables through the sieve.
5. Add small amounts of reserved liquid until achieving the desired consistency.
6. Freeze or can as directed.
What can be pureed in a cone shaped sieve? Over the years, I’ve pretty much pureed everything in this handy kitchen tool. The best produce for pureeing seems to be the following:
* Pumpkins, winter squashes, carrots
* Berries, grapes, cooked soft fruit such as apples, pears, apricots and peaches. The pureed fruit may require adding back in some of reserved liquid.
*Cooked tomatoes: for sauce, add some reserved liquid. Paste requires no additional liquid.
Of course, pureeing food isn’t the only thing this wonderful kitchen tool can do. I’ve used it to strain broth from cooked meat bones, remove flour chunks from lumpy gravy, and to sift powdered sugar over large quantities of cookies and pastries as well.
Where to find cone shaped sieves. Vintage cone shaped sieves can be found on antique sites and auction sites, and range between $10-$25. Be sure to search for these using the term such as food masher, cone shaped sieve, or colander with pestle. If you prefer to buy new instead of used, specialty kitchen shops will call these items a chinois, chinoise, or china cap. Keep in mind when ordering that a chinois typically comes in a finer mesh, and that a larger mesh is the one you’ll want for pureeing home grown produce.