The first food mills were developed in the early 1920s by the Foley Manufacturing Company in Minnesota. A precursor to the modern blender and food processor, the food mill was designed to purée and mash foods. The Foley models were made of steel and coated in tin to prevent rust and corrosion from acidic foods. The simple design consisted of three main parts: a bottomless bowl, a disk with holes and an angled metal blade attached to a crank.
Today’s models have not changed significantly, although some come with interchangeable disks to deliver a fine, medium or coarse purée. The functionality is the same: With a swift crank of the handle, cooked food is forced downward and pressed through the holes in the disk and out the bottom of the bowl. Seeds, skins, cores and other fibers are trapped in the mill, leaving behind a smooth purée.
The most significant difference between a purée created with a food mill versus a blender or food processor is its density. Because food mills do not incorporate as much air during the process, the puree comes out thicker and heavier, making it perfect for applesauce, jams, jellies and tomato sauces. Other foods, such as mashed potatoes, salsas, soups and coulis (a velvety smooth fruit sauce), are also well-suited for a food mill. And when gardens are harvested, a food mill can quickly process cooked produce for canning and jarring.
Food mills have a myriad of uses. They are an excellent way to make food that is soft enough for babies, yet not as pulverized as it would be using a blender. Food mills allow elderly or sick individuals — who may have trouble chewing or swallowing whole foods due to poor dentition — to consume nutrient-rich whole food instead of fortified supplement beverages, which can be expensive. Even picky eaters may benefit from the food mill, consuming healthful and inventive combinations of puréed fruits and vegetables.
Since it doesn’t rely on electricity, the food mill is more earth-friendly than its modern day counterparts and can be used anywhere, anytime. If properly cared for, a food mill can last decades, giving it a home in your kitchen for generations to come.