One of my favorite things about going camping with my grandparents was going fishing with my Grandpa, Woody. I was not always quiet and I was not always patient, but he was both of those things and so it was delightful. He'd look out over the water and trawl his little fishing boat over to some stand of long-sunken trees. There, he'd cast his line, I'd cast mine and we'd wait. Sometimes the sun would blaze down on us, but that good ole boy from the hollers knew how to find shady spots almost every time. We'd sit there and talk, well, I'd talk. Often, we'd settle in to a great fishing spot (not necessarily great for catching fish, but great for fishing, if you understand the difference), and have lunch right there in the boat.
He wasn't a fancy guy and his boats weren't much more than aluminum tubs, so there was no table and certain no silverware, but there was, ALWAYS, a pocket knife. My grandfather carried a pocket knife from around the age of four until well after 9/11 when he got stopped at the airport with a Case Mini Trapper. It was run of about 65 years of carrying a knife everyday. And when we were out on the water, lunch was served via pocket knife. He'd have some cheese, an apple, some salami, and if my grandma remembered, a pack of Ritz. With only his pocket knife, he'd peel the apple (in a single, long peel), core it, cut it up into eighths and slice the cheese. It was a feast really and I loved the simplicity of it.
And so thirty years later, I still have Pocket Knife Lunches (PKL), probably once a week. Usually on Saturdays, usually shared with my boys, and usually with the same simple fare--apple, cheese, some cured meat. With my sons around, I also have grapes and if the weather permits, I like making stuff on the camp fire, again with nothing other than a knife. The camp pie seen above was buttered, peanut buttered added, and cut open all with the excellent Ver Steeg Imp.
The nice thing about the PKL is that there is really nothing to get in the way of good food. My uncle dropped off a chunk of homemade salami, so stiff and peppery the smell alone made my eyes water, and it was a perfect part of a PKL. Every once in a while we spring from some fancy cheese, but even cheap Percorino Romano, sliced thin, is excellent on a apple wedge. I have tried to eat healthier since my boys have been born and but for the salami, everything at a typical Pocket Knife Lunch is good for you. Throw in some cashews and some seltzer and I and my sons are happy campers (sometimes literally).
Aside from the fun of eating simple tasty food, there is the knife knut thrill of really using your blade. You get a distinct sense of a knife's cutting performance when you go from spreading butter, to slicing cheese, to cutting apples, to hacking through a stout piece of salami. Every knife I test and every knife I review does at least one PKL.
Over the years PKLs were what led to me to beauty of M390/20CV. My Benchmade 555-1 in 20CV has been one of my most frequent PKL companions of late and it has done marvelously well--slicing with aplomb and shaking off tarnish like raindrops. These steels truly are a wonder. PKLs also taught me that CTS-XHP did not stand up to cherries that well, coming away noticeably darker. ZDP-189, love it as I do, does not remain gleaming after an orange or two and some time in the sun. And if you want a quick and even patina on 1095, especially the stuff out of GEC, cut up some green grapes and leave the juice on for a while. You'll have a Fett-worthy pocket knife in no time.
PKLs will also teach you a bit about grinds. It was here that I discovered the sheer, smile-inducing performance of the Percival blade and the punch-above-its-weight power of Al Mar's AUS8. These are great knives because of good grinds, not good chemistry.
Finally, the PKL has one other benefit--it will teach you a bit of knife skills. Peel and cut an apple with a knife and no table and you'll get better with a knife. Do that without breaking the peel and you'll edge ever closer to knife ninja status (not Mall Ninja, actual knife ninja). Cooking, which is rare, but not unheard of at a PKL, helps you learn how to cut around the bone of a steak sizzled on a camp fire, turning whatever you have on you into a paring knife.
Note that I cheated on that last one as the camp pie sort of exploded when I cut into it, but it was too delicious to just throw away so I busted out a fork. Not technically a PKL, but close enough.
So if you are looking for a ritual, something to make you feel connected to the knives you own and the food you eat, skip Subway this Saturday and have a PKL. Maybe its the Italian in me, with all of the cheese and cured meats, or the red neck in me with whole pocket knife thing. Whatever the origin though, I am glad to have the chance to test my knives and eat a simple meal. Its the knife equivalent of writing a snail mail letter and sealing it with wax. And it reminds me of Woody.
Not a bad lunch, right?