The Special Place Spoons Have In Our Hearts
Here in the United States it's Thanksgiving. A time when families traditionally come together to share a meal and give thanks for all the good things going on in their lives. Sharing a meal as a form of celebration is something that spans all cultures. Often, the preparation of the meal is as big an event as the meal itself.
Last month I was contacted by one of my Instagram followers. She'd seen my work previously at a craft fair and wanted a custom order making. A lot of the custom orders I got are for versions of products I've already made. This one was a little different.
The woman that contacted me had recently inherited a wooden spoon from her grandmother. This was the spoon her grandmother used to make her famous cookie recipe. She wanted me to make several replicas so she could share it with family members.
It was a wonderful idea, and I was thrilled to be a part of a family tradition like this. it also ties into a personal belief of mine: everyone has a favourite kitchen utensil, and for many people that utensil is a wooden spoon.
In the 2007 article Voices in the Kitchen: Cooking Tools as Inalienable Possessions David Sutton and Michael Hernandez talk about how the items we use to cook carry memories. They note that the kitchen is a multi-sensory location, more so than any other room of the house. This helps create vivid memories. Meals are also often the centrepieces of celebrations. So it stands to reason that the items used to create those meals quickly come to represent the good times. From the article's abstract:
Because they are relatively durable, show signs of age, and because they travel with us from place to place, certain cooking tools take on the status of biographical objects, used to tell the stories of people's lives and their ancestors, as well as to prepare their daily meal.
Having a stall that sells spoons, I'm often privy to people's conversations that follow a similar line to this. Someone will pick up a spoon and comment on how their grandmother or mother had a similar one. They might even link the utensil to a specific meal. Such as the cookie spoon I'm recreating. Wooden spoons often provoke an emotional reaction in people that goes beyond their purely functional purpose.
I think a part of the reason wooden spoons hold such a special place because of the natural properties of wood. It's durable, so a spoon will last generations. But it's not so tough that it won't be changed through use. The first thing that happens is that the spoon develops a patina. Cooking stains the wood. On a new spoon it's obvious whether or not the last meal was a cumin infused curry or a tomatoey bolognese. Over time these colour variations mellow into an overall darkening of the wood. Spoons also wear down. The cookie spoon I was sent is no longer symmetrical. I can tell that the grandmother was right-handed from how the front of the spoon bowl has worn away. This asymmetry is actually something I intentionally add to my cooking spoons, making them more comfortable to use.
Wood also has a lot of advantages over other materials. It doesn't scratch non-stick surfaces. It's warm, but non-conductive, so won't burn you if it's been sitting in the heat for a while. While wood will scorch if exposed to direct heat, it won't melt like plastics. It's also naturally anti-bacterial. Finally, it's easy get wooden items custom made to your specifications.
Do you have a wooden utensil you've inherited? What memories does it invoke when you use it? I'd love to hear more stories on this.