Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. –––William Morris
No kitchen is really complete without a container of wooden spoons on the counter. So useful and very beautiful. In our Paris apartment, a wire basket holds an assortment of spoons, soup ladles, spatulas, salad servers and flat bladed stirrers. When home in Colorado, an antique white stoneware pitcher and sugar bowl overflow with old and new implements. All wood.
I come about this affection genetically. My mother had a collection of well-used wooden spoons. Some were from her mother, whom we called “Gram”.
Before she married my grandfather, Gram was a Home Economics teacher in the local high school. That was back in the days when “Home Ec” was taught in U.S. public schools. Several of her spoons now have a flattened edge on the left side. This, after many years of right-handed stirring by my grandmother, my mother, and me.
In Gabrielle Hamilton’s book, Blood, Bones, and Butter [Random House, 2011], her French-born mother is known to wield a wooden spoon as an extension of her arm:
“She lived in our kitchen, ruled the house with an oily wooden spoon in her hand, and forced us all to eat dark, briny, wrinkled olives, small birds we would have liked as pets, and cheeses that looked like they might well bear Legionnaire’s Disease….Her burnt orange Le Creuset pots and casseroles, scuffed and blackened, were constantly at work…cooking things with tails, claws, and marrow-filled bones–whatever she was stewing and braising and simmering to feed our family of seven.”
Legacy spoons, like from Gabrielle’s mother and mine, are recycled pieces of history. The patina and grain are enhanced by generations of cooks stirring rich stews, thick hot chocolate, or biscuit batters.
Wooden spoons and implements are not meant to be decorative. I use them all the time for cooking or baking. The difference is, I treat them like royalty compared to other kitchenware. Except for knives. They never roll around in overstuffed kitchen drawers with metal and plastic. They aren’t abused by flopping back and forth in soapy cycles of the dishwasher. They are hand washed with a scrub brush using no soap and lots of hot running water.
When my spoons become noticeably dry, blotchy with scratches, and splintery around the edges, it’s time for “Spoon Spa Day”. A sanding, oiling, rejuvenating timeout.
After general assembly, fine grade sandpaper is used to exfoliate surface problems. Smooth wood grain emerges in seconds. Rinse off sanding dust under tap water. Air-dry and then apply the final finishing touch.
No olive oil or furniture polish should condition wooden objects used in food preparation. Ok, I have used olive oil in a pinch. But better to buy a cheap bottle of pure mineral oil. Massage into the wood from head to handle. Buff off any excess oil. Reassemble utensils into their container. Admire briefly while they lean companionably against each other.
In William Morris philosophy, after admiring their beauty, put them to use. Baking is always a good option. The gold standard of baking in our household has always been Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.
In my teens, I learned that the best homemade cookie batters are creamed, beaten, and stirred by hand–preferably with a sturdy, long handled wooden spoon. It is also a fact that raw cookie dough tastes better off wood than metal or plastic.
This recipe originated from Mrs. Longhurst, the mother of a high school girlfriend. I have been making these cookies for decades–from my own adolescent cookie cravings, for a young husband in early marriage, into the children-raising years, for nieces, nephews, sisters, and countless friends overseas and at home. The contractor and crews who built our Colorado cabin ate “Wendy’s Cookies” throughout construction. Some say it is a better built cabin because of mixing oats, chocolate and physical labor.
Wooden spoons are like the trees from which they are honed. They are organically beautiful. They are eminently utilitarian. They can be passed through many generations of kitchens and cooks. In this way, they live…maybe forever.
WENDY’S OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Ingredient amounts have been adjusted to make big batches that are easily frozen.
- 2 C. butter or margarine
- 2 C. packed brown sugar
- 2 C. granulated sugar
- 4 tsp. pure vanilla extract [don’t skimp here, use an expensive brand for a big difference in taste]
- 5 eggs
- 2 ¾ tsp. baking soda
- 2 ¾ tsp. salt
- 5 1/3 C. unbleached flour
- 5 1/3 C. whole oats
- 5 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips or cut up dark chocolate bars or a mixture of both [best quality chocolate]
In a large bowl, beat butter, sugars, and vanilla until light and creamy. You can melt the butter first to speed this up. Beat eggs lightly together. Add to creamed ingredients.
Beat everything together with a sturdy wooden spoon. Stir in salt and soda. Add flour, mixing in each cup completely. Stir in oats and finally chocolate bits.
Place spoonfuls of dough [small-size ice cream scoop holds perfect amount] onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake in preheated 375 F. oven until lightly browned, 8-10 min. For crispy cookies, bake to a darker brown. Lighter brown results in soft, chewy cookies.
Remove immediately from baking sheet to cool. Store in tins lined with wax paper. Or in jars as my daughter does. Keep one out for noshing. Freeze the rest.