In Case of Emergency, Open Can

In Case of Emergency, Open Can

One of the items suggested by the Homeland Security Council for inclusion in an emergency preparedness kit is a manual can opener.

Being the sort of person who is never prepared for anything, it is of great comfort to me to know that my Swing-A-Way can opener has been quietly guarding me from untold disaster for decades.

I gave up my electric can opener nearly 20 years ago when the real estate boom of the 80s gained us a home with a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet.

It had about three square feet of counter space and one electrical outlet, so when I spied a manual can opener on one of those store displays aimed at pushing slow-selling items to impulse shoppers, I bought it.

It took up no counter space whatsoever, required no messy electrical cord, and no electrical outlet.

Even better, it never, ever built up that really gross gunky stuff that we’d prefer not to think about, but that we all know hides on electric can openers.

All I had to do to clean my Swing-A-Way was stick it under the hot water when I finished opening a can. Imagine, all this for the low, low price of $3.98!

I had no idea that such progress had been made in the world of manual can opening.

My previous experience with can openers was not a pleasant one. My grandmother possessed three, each one of them crude and difficult to use.

Can Opener from Hell No. 1 was basically a handle with a hooked blade at the top. Opening a can with this device required positioning it near the edge of the can, then pounding it into the can with one swift blow.

If you managed to do this without A. bruising your hand B. hitting the handle just a little off-center so that the can of mushroom soup somersaulted off the counter onto your foot or C. impaling your hand on the convenient corkscrew that always managed to dislodge itself from the handle, then you were ready for the next test of courage.

Working the handle up and down around the edge of the can resulted in a number of uneven raggedy cuts, but eventually, after much work, slipping of the blade and an occasional puncture wound from the cursed corkscrew, it was possible to remove enough metal to free the contents from the can.

Can Opener From Hell No. 2 had no sharp blades or corkscrews. Its specialty was psychological torture.

It had nothing but a handle and these two blunt pieces of metal, which in theory, was supposed to scissor together, causing the blade to clamp down on the edge of the can.

Of course, it never stayed clamped down on the can. That is, if you ever got it on in the first place. Its particular evil was to create anxiety, frustration and enough desperation to drive you to use Can Opener from Hell No. 1, resulting in both mental and physical abuse.

What a pair, those two.

And then there was Can Opener From Hell No. 3.

The can opener wasn’t outrightly evil like the other two. It was easy to attach to the can, had no sharp poking things, but it was dull and lazy and never around when you needed it.

It would attach to the can all right, but the handle would slip — a lot. You could turn and turn the handle and it would just sit there spinning its wheels.

Most of the time, the only way to get the can open was to puncture the top of the can over and over again, until a series of perforations were created. Then it was necessary to jam a knife into the can and pry the lid off. Sometimes the lid would flip off — a jagged-edged projectile flinging food juice all over the place.

The thought of being trapped in a bomb shelter with one of those demonic devices and the million cans of pork and beans Mother had stocked up to tide us over until the radioactivity wore off made being vaporized seem the better alternative.

Considering the trials and tribulations associated with these primitive can openers, it isn’t surprising that the public flocked to electric can openers.

I sincerely hope that the Swing-A-Way can opener is a relatively recent invention. If I were to find out that such a can opener was available for purchase in the 1960s, and that I could have had a happier childhood for the price of a couple of candy bars and an Archie comic book, I’ll be very disappointed in myself.

But I’ll be happy to swing away at terrorism.


Seven Can Casserole

  • 2 cans tuna fish
  • 1 no. 2 can Chinese noodles
  • 1 can chop suey or Chinese vegetables
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 soup can milk
  • 1 can water chestnuts, drained and sliced
  • 1/2 – 1 cup slivered almonds
  • Potato chips, crushed

Mix all ingredients except potato chips. Bake uncovered at 350 for 35 minutes. Top with chips. Yield 6-8 servings

Linda Gohl of California provided this recipe after seeing Cousin Emma’s Seven Can Recipe in the San Francisco Chronicle. Cousin Emma’s recipe contained only six cans. Perhaps she was afraid having to open more would trigger a nervous breakdown.

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