Every kitchen needs this humble tool

It was an art to wield a pick in the right grain of ice so that it broke apart easily.

I have a treasure in my kitchen drawer. It is an ice pick, and it lies mostly buried in a tangle of gadgets - spatulas, knife sharpeners, bottle openers, grapefruit corers. It has seen better days, but it holds its own in the drawer, its sharp point protected by a hard plastic cover. I don't often need it, but it is there when I do - and it has been for at least 35 years.

I didn't realize this humble kitchen tool was such a treasure until one day I tried to buy one. I was out of town, visiting my son in Bozeman, Mont. The cubes in their automatic icemaker had frozen into an impenetrable mass.

"I can fix that," I said. "Just show me where the ice pick is."

"What's an ice pick?" my daughter-in-law asked.

I grew up with ice picks. They were a necessary tool, used daily with a wooden ice bucket. Chopping a large chunk of ice into pieces in the bucket was a treasured chore, and children vied for the privilege. It was an art to wield the pick in the right grain of the ice so that it fell apart easily. Splatters of crystals fell on the delighted and willing worker, melting in the heat of a summer day.

I remember the iceman, who came regularly to our street. He was a master of the pick, using it to separate huge blocks of ice into smaller ones. He would grab the block with large tongs, slide it onto his burlap-protected shoulder, and carry it into the house. While he was hoisting ice, the neighborhood kids would hoist themselves onto the back of the ice truck and gather long crystals. Flavored with the aromatic wood of the truck bed, these crystals tasted better than ice cream - in my memory, at least.

It's been a long time since I had an icebox. I must admit I don't use the ice pick every day, but it was a shock to learn that not every household has one. Even if you don't find your loose ice cubes frozen into a solid chunk in the freezer, it is a tool with many uses. It can punch a new hole in a belt to make it fit better. It can clear the opening in a bottle of shampoo or spray paint. It can puncture an evaporated milk tin. In a pinch, it can make a hole to start a screw. I wouldn't be without one.

Surprised, though, that my son and his wife did not own an ice pick, I hied myself off to the local hardware store, confident I'd find one there. I entered and asked the young lady at the information desk where I could find one.

She gave me a puzzled look and asked, "What's an ice pick?"

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