Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. –William Morris
No kitchen is complete without a container of wooden spoons on the counter. Both useful and 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 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 when “Home Ec” was taught in U.S. public schools. Several of her spoons now have a flattened edge on the left side. This came about after many years of right-handed stirring by my grandmother, my mother and me.
In Gabrielle Hamilton’s book, Blood, Bones, and Butter, her French-born mother was 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.” –from Blood, Bones & Butter, Random House, 2011
Legacy spoons 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 purely decorative. I use them all the time for cooking or baking. The difference is, I treat them like royalty compared to other kitchenware. They don’t roll around in overstuffed kitchen drawers. They aren’t abused in soapy cycles of the dishwasher. They are hand washed with a scrub brush and hot running water.
When my spoons become noticeably dry with scratches and splinters, it’s time for a sanding, smoothing, oiling timeout.
Fine grade sandpaper exfoliates surface problems. Smooth wood grain quickly emerges. Rinse off sanding dust under tap water. Air-dry and then apply the final finishing touch.
No olive oil or furniture polish should condition wood used in food preparation. Ok, I have used olive oil in a pinch. But better to use an inexpensive bottle of plain mineral oil. Massage into the wood from head to handle. Buff off excess oil. Admire them briefly.
Drawing on William Morris’ philosophy, now make them useful. Baking is a good idea. The gold standard of baking in our household is Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.
In my teens, I learned that the best homemade cookie batters are creamed, beaten, and stirred by hand with a sturdy, long handled wooden spoon. Also, raw cookie dough tastes better off wood than metal or plastic.
My 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. The contractor and crews who built our new Colorado cabin ate “Wendy’s Cookies” throughout construction. Some say it is better built because of that mixture of 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 CHOCOLATE CHIP OATIES
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 vanilla extract [don’t skimp, use real vanilla]
- 5 eggs
- 2 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 1/2 tsp salt
- 5 C unbleached flour
- 5 C whole oats
- 4 C semi-sweet chocolate chips or cut up dark chocolate bars or a mixture of both
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.
Drop spoonfuls of dough onto un-greased baking sheet. [or a small ice cream scoop holds the perfect amount] Bake in preheated 375 F. oven until lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. For crispy cookies, bake to a darker brown. Lighter brown results in chewy cookies.
Remove immediately from baking sheet to cool. Store in cookie tins lined with wax paper. Or in jars as my daughter does. Keep one container out for noshing. Freeze the rest.