Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Monday, 24 September 2012


Now here’s an old chestnut: If there was a fire in your house, what would you save if you could only take one thing with you? Well, first I’m going to do a sneaky cheat. I’ll assume that the stuff my children have given me over the years is for some obscure reason in my car boot.

Image courtesy of
What I would save is my “NUTBROWN PIE FUNNEL” made in England, registered design number 860828 (the one in the image, for some reason has a different design no.). You put it in the middle of your unbaked pie with the outlet (in this case the trunk) either above or at the same level as the top of the crust. It channels the steam from the interior of the pie to the exterior without breaking the crust. This job can also be done simply (and boringly) by cutting through the pastry to let the steam escape.

Made in the 1950s, I bought it in the early 80s in a flea market in Liverpool. What I love is the fact that in the not-too distant past, designers actually had imagination and humour. I love this pie funnel. I have seen open-mouthed penguin pie funnels and Eiffel and Blackpool Tower pie funnels, but they do not show any real imagination on the part of the designer. Not really.

For me, my elephant pie funnel is a cut above the obvious. It is both fun and functional. It is not as functional as the unadorned clean lines of an Eiffel/Blackpool Tower type funnel and perhaps it is ever so slightly more difficult to get the bits of pie off. So what? It is definitely more fun.

In today’s world of streamlined JIT manufacturing and cheese-paring efficiency, such a pie funnel would be a designer item. I imagine that it was manufactured at a time when form followed function and decoration followed form. Today in design less is more. Unfortunately functional streamlining is also emotional streamlining.

If there are no extra, special, individualistic details, then there is nothing to relate to emotionally in the object itself. Perhaps that is why we accumulate so much stuff and will eagerly buy the latest iGadget when the one we have still works perfectly.

We are sailing through a Sargasso Sea of stuff. To guide us we have Jack Sparrow’s wildly-spinning compass. We watch as the formlessly uniform kelp churns momentarily at our passing.    

We consume stuff like Elvis consumed hamburgers: constantly chewing, never finishing, never satisfied, always ordering the next burger. Killing ourselves with our excessive demands. I read somewhere that Elvis ate constantly because he never saw an empty plate. An empty plate indicates satiety, satisfaction. Our lack of emotional attachment to the stuff we own means that we too are never satisfied. If everything we own is smooth and shiny, what is there to hold onto? How can I grasp it emotionally? How can such an object really be satisfying?

My Nutbrown Elephant Pie Funnel brings joy and amusement to the (now not-so) everyday activity of baking a pie. This is a perfect example of an article designed to add to the aesthetic and emotional enjoyment of both cooking and eating food. It is strange to think that such a small, simple object can have so much emotional power.

It is hard to imagine that the design chappie at Nutbrown had any idea when he designed my elephant that he was shaping emotions as well as pottery - adding to the pleasure of living. Is the hallmark of good design the ability to instensify the experience of using an object? I think it is more. Apple do this latter perfectly. Modern design impresses intellectually, materially. Earlier design, however, inspires true emotional warmth.

We need more elephant pie funnels. We need more home cooking. We need more Home. We need to concentrate more on our family and friends. Everything surrounding good food and good cooking brings us closer together. That is why I would save my Nutbrown Elephant Pie Funnel from a house fire.


  1. Thank you so much for your wonderful posting. It is beautifully written and so utterly true. I believe in so many of the home truths you speak of. The world does need to stop and smell the roses and remember why we are attached to our belongings. Our emotions play a great part in our selection of an item it becomes part of ourselves, our identity as it were or is or should be. To just consume and pay no respect to the reason we are attracted to a certain thing and to just throw it away without giving it a second thought is just calis and cold.

    Amazingly I am a suicide survivor, in which at one point a serious workplace injury and a non conforming workers compensation insurance company got the better of my common sense and I tried to overdose, after having spent the following month in hospital and going through the occupational therapy programs I am now retraining as a industrial design. I am in the midst of an assignment involving Alessi and Kitchenware items, I happen to have a similar pie funnel to yours and it brings me joy to think about it's purpose and the era it was designed. My assignment calls for me to research items I have in my kitchen and whilst looking for the history of the pie funnel I have I came across your article. Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Thank you from Pete in Australia.

  2. Please feel free to contact me at if you like

    1. Hi Pete, first thank you for your kind words. I wrote this post for my own enjoyment and, hopefully, for the enjoyment of others. I wrote it because I do indeed enjoy the pie funnel. It may only be a knick-knack, but it speaks to me in ways many other things do not.

      More importantly, I'm glad to know that you're fine and re-making your life. It takes enormous courage to lay yourself bare as you have done in your reply. Being no stranger to clinical depression myself, I can recognise the effort that it takes to actually get up every morning - but to change the whole direction of your life -WOW!!!

      Thanks again for your comment. I hope that your new career is a great success and that one day someone write about one of your own designs with as much warmth and affection for it as I have tried to convey in this post.

    2. Nice to hear from you. It is great to make such acquaintance through seemingly unconnected ways. May the world be a happier place through the effort of positively motivated people.
      Cheers Mark stay safe.