Two decades ago, the late writer Laurie Colwin, a novelist and a foodie, published an article in a New York City weekly titled "The Low Tech Person's Batterie de Cuisine." In it she listed what you would need to equip your kitchen without a lot of expense and electric gadgets; she urged her readers to shop yard sales, Good Will and the hardware store for basic tools.
In the late 1990s when I was setting up house with my husband in Berkeley, I discussed this list with the mavens on the old usenet - people who posted in discussion groups devoted to food and frugality. I lived close to Sur la Table and Pottery Barn; I received glossy catalogs from Williams-Sonoma, and was planning a wedding which would require a registry. I'd spent several years living like a gypsy college student after moving cross-country, and my husband had been living in a shared house, so we needed to start almost from scratch. What kitchen equipment do you need? I asked. And what should go in a frugal person's batterie de cuisine?
The answers were long and detailed. I compiled the list, laughing.
Now that the world is thinking about how to live simply on less money, I repost the kitchen equipment list for your edification.
The hardware store is still a decent place to look for pots and pans; I also check Asian housewares stores, the Salvation Army, and Target. Ikea's kitchenware is so cheaply made that most of it is not worth the money.
What you need to stock your kitchen - Original list by Laurie Colwin:
2 knives, one small, one large
2 wooden spoons - long handle & short handle
2 rubber spatulas - one wide, one narrow
1 decent pair kitchen shears
2 frying pans - small & large - cast iron
2 cutting boards - small & large
2 roasting pans. 1 big, 1 med. size
2 soup kettles, 1 4 qt., 1 10 qt.
A heavy lidded casserole, enamel over cast iron or earthenware
a pair of cheap tongs
1 all-purpose grater
one little bitty grater
mixing bowls - glass or metal recommended by usenet advice
sharp pronged fork
My additions as of 1997:
hand mixer (in 2009 I can say I don't own one and don't need it)
hand cranked food mill
garlic press - a favorite
9x13 cake pan
8x8, 9x9 cake pans
8x8 or 9x9 glass baking dishes
muffin tin - 12 muffin
deep-bowled serving spoon
measuring cups and spoons (several votes, both newsgroups)
Citrus fruit juicer (several votes, both newsgroups)
blender and/or food processor
sharpening stone or steel for knives
toaster oven instead of toaster
extra wooden spoons
1 & 2 qt sauce pans (see above - mentioned in soc.couples.wedding)
4-sided box grater instead of "little bitty grater"
Covers for mixing bowls
springform pan with a tube & flat insert (instead of bundt)
Baking sheets (heavy ones won't warp)
9x13 and 9x9 pans
Microwave oven (several votes)
Mouli mandoline slicer
Braun's Multimix hand mixer, or KitchenAid stand mixer
teakettle with a whistler
Sunbeam/Oster chicken rotisserie
2 Ladles - 12 oz for serving soups, 2 oz for sauces
Instant read thermometer
Lemon reamer. Wood, not plastic
Pitchers - small for gravy/sauces, large for beverages if you wish
Long-handled spoons, slotted and solid
Common white butcher's string
hemmed length of unbleached, well-washed muslin for fine straining (like stocks) and draining (like yogurt cheese).
pastry cloth and rolling pin cover (if you're into pastry)
aloe vera plant for burns
good rubber gloves
long handled brushes
cheese slicer with the wire
ice cream scoop
Remember, this is a summary of about 40 posts. Don't tell me this list is no longer simple or frugal - I know it!