How To Cope With Your Parents' Dull Knives

My mother and I have a virtually stress-free relationship (I know, I'm lucky) but there is one thing that fills me with dread whenever I visit home: the state of her cooking knives. Dull as butter spreaders, they are at best unpleasant to use and at worst an injury waiting to happen. It's a head-shaking, yet not uncommon, situation. Speaking with others, I have heard similar tales regarding mom and dad's unsharpened knives. What are we to do?

I'm not sure what it is that leads so many parents to keep dull blades. Perhaps they don't cook as much as they did when we were growing up and maintaining sharp knives isn't a priority. Maybe the parent who used to handle such tasks is no longer around. Maybe the knives are just way past their prime. (Of course, a really good knife can last a lifetime if properly cared for.)

After years of listening to my grumbling whenever I cooked at her house, my mom actually designated a knife just for me. The sharp blade waits in a drawer, unused, until the couple times a year that I visit. That alleviates my frustration, but I still worry about her safety. Despite my exhortations, I know she won't suddenly start sharpening her own knives. For myself and others in similar situations, I've come up with a few solutions:

Take the initiative: Next time you visit, bring a sharpening stone or honing steel and go to town.

Give a sharpening gift certificate: It's a good idea to get knives professionally sharpened about once a year. If you or your parents can't drop off knives at a local business, there are mail-order sharpening services. (The Wall Street Journal has reviewed several.) Provide mom and dad with pre-paid shipping boxes so all they have to do is pack and send.

Get an electric sharpener: Okay, this wouldn't actually work with my mother (it would just sit in the cupboard) but for parents who like gadgets, an easy-to-use electric sharpener might do the trick.

Protect the blades: It seems that a lot of parents store their knives loose in a drawer, which can ruin the edges (and nick fingertips). In kitchens where there isn't space for a knife rack, block, or drawer tray, a simple solution is to use blade guards or sheaths. I recently got some Bisbell Magmates, which sandwich the knife blade between two magnets and protect it during storage or transport.

Speaking of transport, sometimes you just need to...

Bring your own knives when you visit: This won't fix your parents' knives, but it may be necessary to preserve your sanity.

Do your parents have dull knives? How do you cope?

Related: Kitchen Safety: Why a Sharp Knife Leads to Fewer Injuries

(Image: Flickr member romana klee licensed under Creative Commons)

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Emily Han (formerly Emily Ho) is a writer, recipe developer and educator on topics such as food preservation, wild food and herbalism. She is author of Wild Drinks and Cocktails (Fall 2015), co-founder of Food Swap Network and creator of Miss Chiffonade