“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” –––William Morris*
No kitchens are really complete without a container of wooden spoons. 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. In our 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, Helen Eunice Brookley. We called her “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 have an asymmetrically flattened edge on the left side. Many years of right-handed stirring from 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 wooden spoons, like from Gabrielle’s mother and mine, are recycled pieces of history. Think about how 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 just decorative displays. I use them all the time for cooking or baking. The difference is, I treat them like royalty compared to other kitchenware. [With the exception of knives–another story.] They never roll around and roughhouse in overstuffed kitchen drawers with metal and plastic. They aren’t abused by flopping back and forth in soapy cycles of the dishwasher. But rather are washed with a scrub brush, using minimal [or no] soap and running water.
When my spoons become noticeably dry, blotchy with scratches, and splintery around the edges, it’s time for “Kitchen Spa Day”. A sanding, smoothing, oiling, rejuvenating timeout.
After general assembly, out comes the fine grade sandpaper to exfoliate cosmetic problems. Silky smooth surfaces emerge in seconds. Rinse off sanding dust under tap water. Air-dry and then–the beautifying 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. Set aside to rest.
Later, buff off any excess oil. Reassemble all the oiled/pampered utensils into their container. Admire briefly while they lean companionably on each other.
Then, as William Morris would agree, put them to use. Baking is always a good option. The gold standard in our household has 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 learned fact that raw cookie dough tastes better off wood than metal or plastic.
My recipe originally came from Mrs. Longhurst, the mother of a high school girlfriend. I have been making these cookies for decades–from my own adolescent sweet cravings, for a young husband in early marriage, through the children-raising years, for nieces, nephews, sisters, and countless friends overseas. 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.
*[Mantra for Lara, Anna, Rebecca, Susan] See quote.
WENDY’S OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
[Ingredient amounts have been adjusted to make “big batches” that are easily frozen.]
- 2 C. butter or margarine [I used margarine for years, but butter is considered healthier these days.]
- 2 C. packed brown sugar
- 2 C. granulated sugar
- 4 tsp. pure vanilla extract [don’t skimp on cost, buy an expensive brand. BIG difference in taste. True for all baking!]
- 5 eggs
- 2 ¾ tsp. baking soda
- 2 ¾ tsp. salt
- 5 1/3 C. flour [I always use unbleached]
- 5 1/3 C. rolled oats [whole oats, not instant]
- 5 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips or cut up dark chocolate bars or a mixture of both [good quality chocolate makes a difference, so spend the money]
In a large bowl, beat butter, sugars, and vanilla until light and creamy. [I often melt the butter first to speed this up.] Beat eggs lightly together. Add to creamed ingredients.
Beat the whole mess with a sturdy wooden spoon. [naturally!] Stir in salt and soda. Add flour, mixing in each cup completely. Stir in oats and finally chocolate bits.
Drop by spoonfuls [small-size ice cream scoop recommended] onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 375 F, until lightly browned [8-10 min.] [For crispy cookies, bake to a darker brown. Lighter brown results in softer, 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.