Photo by Judith Hausman
I suppose every trade has its tools and every person in the trade has a favorite tool. For essential versatility and usefulness, one of my own favorites is metal tongs with flat edges, perfect to turn over searing meats, lift poultry or nudge poaching fruit. But really the tools I’m most attached to are my wooden spoons and spatulas.
Of course, they work—let’s start with that. They don’t get hot when you stir soup, they don’t taste metallic when you try out the sauce, they don’t mess up a no-stick surface and they are strong and comfortable for stirring thick mixtures. Still, that’s just half the story for me.
My wooden tools feel good. The oil of cooking has darkened the olive wood ones nicely. The crooked handle of the handcarved one fits my hand. The broad spoon cools a taste quickly, and the more delicate boxwood spoon and fork turn a salad gently. The thin edge of the variegated pusher gets right under pancakes to flip them and the small bamboo spreader somehow scoops the right amount of soft cheese for a cracker. It’s just plain a pleasure to use them.
Photo by Judith Hausman
Since I discovered the enjoyment of these tools, I look for them. I have two cherry wood pie servers made by Jonathan’s because I found an extra one at a tag sale. I’d eat pie served with plastic spoons, but lifting a wedge with this server is so dramatic.
Another Pennsylvania wooden toolmaker made my smooth-grained soup ladle. The boxwood spoon and fork are handmade, but I found them in a regular hardware store on the coast of Spain. Despite my poor Spanish, the shopkeeper steered me right to them. I bought a smaller pair for condiments as well.
Another set of rosewood salad spoons came home from the markets of southern India while a deep-bowled, pale one came from a hobbyist carver in Maine. The olive wood collection was a gift from the south of France. The story of finding the tools, overlayered with the imprint of the many dishes I have prepared with them, adds to the romance of using them.
It seems somehow right to stir lovingly raised food with handmade tools of grown material. My wooden tools honor the season’s and the region’s bounty deeply. I suppose your grandma’s old metal spoon with the red handle or your mom’s eggbeater even (not my mom’s—she can’t cook at all) could make you feel this way, too, like a part of history. But even the brightest, cutest plastic instrument couldn’t mean much to me. I want to feel both the wood and the hand of the maker as I cook.