Over the past hundred years or so, almost every object in the domestic kitchen has been adapted to changing needs and fashions of society. But there is one object that is almost unchanged since it was first made over a century ago.
The mixing bowl.
Not just any mixing bowl – but THE mixing bowl, the one that almost every house in the country has. The one that appears on every cookery programme and in every photograph of a modern kitchen.
Yes, that generic mixing bowl in a familiar cream colour with a bit of a pattern around the outside that almost everyone owns is not just some random object churned out in their millions in some dusty part of China, but is a 112 year old design classic, and is still made by the same English pottery company.
That is officially the “Cane Bowl” – named after the distinctive colour of the local yellow coloured earthenware used in its manufacture, also sometimes known as ‘yellow ware’.
Although the company itself still has factories in England, sadly production of the mixing bowls themselves moved to an unnamed Western European country recently and over the years different people have owned the company — but wonderfully, it is still the same firm, and the same unchanged mixing bowl design.
For a company that has been around for 200 years, and has managed to infiltrate practically every kitchen in the land, it has proven surprisingly difficult to find out much about.
Established in Church Gresley, Derbyshire in the 1800s, the company was run by a series of master potters until it was bought by Tom Cash in 1901, who retained the name of one of the company’s most memorable potters, “Bossy” Mason – and thus the company of Mason Cash was born.
It was also in 1901 that the cane mixing bowl was first produced.
Not much changed for another hundred years until the company was sold in 2004, and again in 2007 to its current owners, The Rayware Group.
The company has struggled at times, and the only newspaper report I could find was in The Times in October 1980, when the company was facing a sharp decline in sales and called in a marketing expert to help. His suggestion was to focus on the company’s heritage — which they accepted — and to raise their prices — which they refused.
I looked in some shops, and those that sold mixing bowls, only sold Mason Cash bowls – not just the big classic mixing bowl, but often pudding bowls — and the company is almost as famous for its pet bowls.
Have a look in your kitchen – if there is an earthenware mixing bowl in there, the chances are that on the bottom will be stamped the name of Mason Cash.
In the modern world, one of the few ways a European manufacturer can compete with cheap Chinese imports is to trade on its brand name and heritage, so that consumers look at a product and are overwhelmed by the marketing rather than the utility. But had you ever opened a cupboard and thought – ahh, the Mason Cash bowl?
So, here is a company that has somehow managed to carry on producing an overtly basic product – the earthenware bowl, with minimal branding and yet defied all the conventional thinking you would learn in a modern business school.
And yet, somehow, the branding is there, in collective memories of children licking the cake mix out of the bowl when mum was baking. In a memory that the cream-coloured bowl told you that deserts and pies and cakes were on the way. In a memory that is subtly prodded when you visit a shop to buy a mixing bowl, and sitting on the shelf a product that quietly whispers fond memories in your ear. With a smile you reach out and almost unthinkingly, buy something that should look so wrong in a modern kitchen, yet is so perfectly correct.
It’s a quite remarkable situation, and one that hardly anyone seems to have noticed.
Disclaimer – When discussing this issue, my flatmate and I were slightly surprised to realise that while we have a large glass mixing bowl, we do not own one of these earthenware classics.
That will be rectified when I move to a new home in a couple of months time.