Wednesday, 24 April 2013

U is for Utensils ...



A wooden spoon – I bet we all have one of those in our kitchens ... I’ve a few ancient ones, ones I inherited from my mother ... and a few I brought back from Africa ... where - I wonder at the selection and woods used.
 
Barn the Spoon
c/o Spitalfields Life

Bee Wilson asks look closer – feel the grain; is it a workmanlike beech factory spoon, or a denser wood whittled by an artisan ... is it round, or oval, short or long, cupped or flat ... childlike or preserving pan size ... and so the questions go on.


Got the piece of bent wood -
now to craft the spoon
Countless decisions – economic and social as well as those pertaining to design and applied engineering - will have gone into our utensil objects over the centuries.


The wooden spoon is a quiet ensemble player in so many meals we take for granted ...  it was traditionally given as the booby prize ... yet we prize our wooden spoons – and it has many advantages.


Alder Wood spoon with
incised band decoration,
of the style used in
Shakespeare's time -
held at the London Museum
We eat with our utensils ... spoons, forks and knives, or our fingers and hands ...


Barn the Spoon is the craftsman par excellence ... “What I’m famous for is making straight spoons from straight branches, but what I am best at is making bent spoons from bent branches” ....


... “the beauty of making a bent spoon from a bent branch is that the grain of the wood runs into the bowl and makes it a lot stronger than a straight spoon from a straight branch”...

 
The Gentle Author's
spoon created from
bent wood by
Barn the Spoon
An excellent post extolling the virtues of a true artisan, who has that critical connection with the tools of his trade – essentially bent wood.


Over the centuries humans have used knives, pronged implements and scooped out wood for spoons ... some are beautiful, some sensuous in their feel, some are designed to perfection ... in fact so is The Gentle Author’s spoon ... also note where the reminiscences of medieval stone vaulting appear in the spoon (see article posted for full description)  ...



Utensils of all sorts have stood the test of time, probably more so than the many high-tech gadgets that have superseded the ‘umble wooden spoon’  ... those early wooden utensils were tools to eat with, to last millennia in design ... not be discarded by the next geeky thought ...


That is U for Utensils from Aspects of British Cookery


Barn The Spoon c/o Spitalfields Life ... at the Cemetery with Barn the Spoon


Consider The Fork: A History of Invention in the Kitchen – by Bee Wilson ... a book I was given, which I thought would make an interesting read ... jottings extracted from her introduction ...

Please see my first commenter - Bob Scotney .. and my reply to him re the wooden spoon booby prize ... many thanks!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

49 comments:

Bob Scotney said...

Hi Hilary. Do you know where the practice of awarding a wooden spoon as a booby prize arose?
Part of the joys of a wooden spoon is getting to lick it when my wife has made a cake mix.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bob .. apparently from Cambridge University - where it was awarded by the students to the man who achieved the lowest exam marks but still earned a third-class degree in the Mathematical Tripos.

There's a couple of interesting short poems reflecting the award .. and a little more history at the Wiki site:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wooden_spoon_(award)

Cheers and thanks for asking! Hilary

Anne Mackle said...

I wondered that about giving it as a booby prize too but you've just answered it. Wouldn't be without my wooden spoons.

J.L. Murphey said...

My wooden spoons have served a variety of uses over the years, but making cookies and sour dough are #1 and #2.

The one thing I hated being a chef was mt inability to use my favorite utensil.

Patsy said...

I have a collection of wooden spoons for different purposes.

Rhonda said...

I will be looking at my utensils in a whole new light tomorrow :)

Old Kitty said...

I can never have enough wooden spoons for baking and cooking!!

Take care
x

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I'm fascinated by craftsmen who can do this type of thing. Amazing!

My friend's dad carves things and makes furniture. I'm really in awe. Loves to talk about types of wood and the wood grain. A whole other world to me!

Laura Eno said...

This is something I've never given much thought to, being from an area that's much given to metal and plastic utensils.
Carving is a lost art form to me. I've never known anybody who practiced it but I can see now what I've been missing as far as sheer artistry. Thank you for pointing me in a direction to explore, Hilary! :)

Christine Rains said...

Wow. I've never given much thought to my wooden spoons before. Now I'll never look at them the same way. :)

Manzanita said...

Oh I like the spoon crafted by Barn the Spoon. I, too, love my small crock of wooden spoons that I keep handy where I prepare dishes.

myriteofpassage said...

Hilary, I grew up in South Africa (a US citizen now) and the wooden spoon was reserved for hidings ... you know, in those days when children were still disciplined, albeit with a utensil. :) Belinda.

Chatty Crone said...

Enjoyed the history of a spoon - it's interesting to know where certain ideas and things were from and how. sandie

Jo said...

I don't even remember where I acquired most of my wooden spoons, but I wouldn't be without them. I have several different shapes and sizes. Never really thought about them before.

JO ON FOOD, MY TRAVELS AND A SCENT OF CHOCOLATE

MorningAJ said...

I have about six at the moment (but I broke my wooden spatula a while ago and need to replace it)

I'd never considered how they're made.

Julie Flanders said...

I wonder why wooden spoons were given as booby prizes? I feel kind of offended on behalf of the wooden spoon. :D

~Sia McKye~ said...

I have lots of wooden utensils and the ones that have lasted the longest are the hand carved ones. They're strong and I've had a several of pairs of hand carved spoons and forks. One of the sets have carvings on the handles. Really quite pretty.

Enjoyed your article, Hilary!

David P. King said...

The world would be a different place without utensils, that's for sure. :)

Mark Means said...

Not sure if you ever saw the documentary about the guy who went out into the wilderness as an experiment and wound up living there for thirty odd years...."Alone in the Wilderness". His name was Dick Proenneke

Anyway, they show him making his own utensils from wood...a bowl and a spoon and I was just fascinated by how he did it and how he turned a small block of wood into something he could eat with.

Interesting stuff :)

Arlee Bird said...

Well, you've come up with some more stuff that most of us wouldn't even have thought about. So interesting! My mother always had some big wooden spoons for mixing and such, but don't see them much anymore. It's all been replaced with some form of plastic.

Lee
Wrote By Rote
An A to Z Co-host blog

D.G. Hudson said...

I still use wooden spoons for cooking, and my daughters have followed my example. Something so simple yet so important in history.

We won't mention that some parents used it as a deterrant to kids misbehaving (I learned this from Canadian friends, so it could have British beginnings. . .but many mentioned it)

Thanks so much for dropping by my blog for Roland's interview in Meilori's. Roland suggested Melody's music to set the mood. Glad you liked it!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Hilary,

I love wooden spoons. They have a timelessness about them...

I also remember my mother used them for more that cooking. They made a great disciplinary tool. LOL. She broke several on my brother. He was a real pain as a kid. LOL.

I found the creativity about the making of these spoons fascinating. As an artist myself I would really appreciate the craftsmanship behind these hand carved spoons.

Munir said...

I remember people used ladles to scare kids. I thought that was unfair.
Also I like spoons to be in sets. I remember my Mom had beautiful spoon sets.

Teresa Coltrin said...

It's amazing to think that things I use so often have such a great history.

I can't live without my wooden utensils.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Bob .. thanks for asking that question - oh I agree the licking of the cake-mix spoon .. I think I ate more cake mix than went into the oven for the cake!!

@ Anne - yes I wouldn't be without my wooden spoons ... and thankfully you spotted my answer re the booby prize.

@ JL - home cooking is so different isn't it .. I remember when my mother set up the Care Home and the kitchen equipment had to comply .. she was really frustrated - only to find within a few years .. that natural utensils were in many ways better. I didn't know you were a chef - interesting news ...

@ Patsy – I expect many of us home bodies do ..

@ Rhonda – I too take a different view now ..

@ Old Kitty – wooden spoons are just so tactile aren’t they ..

@ Elizabeth – me too .. I just don’t have the patience, or natural inclination. Any craftsman deserves much acclamation – they really have so much understanding of things ... great that you can learn something from your Dad's friend for your murder mysteries perhaps?


Cheers - part 2 replies coming up .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Part 2 of the replies:

@ Laura – those lost crafts will be much treasured in future generations – I just hope we don’t lose them for ever ... So pleased you’ll be exploring crafts with new eyes .. anything to keep these workmanship skills alive ..

@ Christine – I hadn’t really either, except I did buy different spoons while I was in Africa ... their origins are fascinating ..

@ Manzanita – isn’t Barn the Spoon the best. I think mine must be beech ... I kept the best when I downsized recently ...

@ Belinda – was the wooden spoon reserved for hidings – that seems to be a common ‘elite’ occupation for the wooden spoon!!! We had a few disciplining too – so can understand your take on the spoon.

@ Sandie – I found the thought of posting about utensils rather interesting and was delighted to find some interesting aspects ...

@ Jo – me neither (if that’s good grammar) .. I only like my really old ones – they’re the better quality I think ...

@ Morning AJ – I’ve a few for various things ... a wooden spatula I don’t use ... I hope you find a good quality one now ... a nice item to look for ... especially now you know what your not looking for!

@ Julie – see my answer above ... I think the Wooden Spoon would be pretty pleased ... being part of Cambridge history and the Maths Tripos!!

@ Sia – it shows doesn’t it ... the craftsman knowing his wood, which then lasts in use for many a year ... I love hand carved implements .. they’re so pretty and so tactile ...

Delighted you enjoyed the read – thanks ...

@ David – well our fingers would be over used wouldn’t they ... I’m quite glad I’ve got utensils to eat with ..

@ Mark – thanks for the introduction to the film “Alone in the Wilderness” – no I’ve never seen it .. I’ll add it to the list of things to watch .. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alone_in_the_Wilderness

His Wiki entry makes interesting reading ... thanks so much for nodding us in his direction ... sounds an interesting book and film ...

@ Lee – it is interesting how we all look at things, but then don’t actually look or think about them – I’m so pleased everyone’s enjoying the post. I know I actually hate plastic – I have it .. but prefer to use my wooden spoons. – our childhood memories ...

@ DG – that’s good to know ... something so simple as you say – early peoples set us up right, while nature provided the wherewithal for us to be able to eat without a mess!

No – ok .. we won’t mention parents whacking us over the knuckles with one of said spoons! I’m sure it did have British beginnings?!

Roland’s interview was a fascinating read .. and his music choice of Melody’s song was just right ...

@ Michael – you’ve used the artist’s word ‘timelessness’ ... oh dear another disciplinary family – we were too ... I’m not sure we ended up with broken ones – you weren’t very sympathetic to your sibling were you?!

You came across for the right post – Barn the Spoon comes from the old world ... happy to make his living doing something he’s passionate about .. I found the Spitalfield’s Life post – just great to read. I’d have loved to have looked through the box of ancient spoons held by the London Museum .. they would tell a lot of stories ...

@ Munir – it’s the way it was ... thankfully not so much today. I agree with other sorts of cutlery ... I love craftmanship and artistry ...

Cheers everyone – so pleased this post interested so many of you .. Hilary

C. Lee McKenzie said...

Utensils are a fascinating part of cultures. I was surprised to learn that the Chinese of long long ago used knives and forks, then switched to chop stix. The change was triggered by the idea that it was crude to continue butchering at the table.

Val Poore said...

I was also wondering about the wooden spoon award. We used to give to someone who was a real stirrer of trouble!

Jen Forbes said...

I have about a half dozen wooden spoons in my kitchen at least. Enjoyed your lesson in history of the spoon.

nutschell said...

wow. an interesting hobby and what a talent!
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And then someone had to invent the useless spork.

Sharon Himsl said...

There is something about a wooden spoon that feels so rock solid. Cannot imagine a kitchen without one! Hi, new follower here.

Silvia Villalobos said...

My grandmother had special spoons or utensils to stir each food as it was cooking. She didn't want to mix or use the wrong spoon for the wrong rice, for example ... something to do with altering the taste of food.

Interesting, the information on utensils.

Lisa said...

Like others here I have wooden spoons from my two grandmothers and I wouldn't trade them for anything. Wood is a great tool in the kitchen and not just for stirring! Wooden cutting boards are also great and don't harbor germs the way plastic does.

Nick Wilford said...

They do seem to be very underestimated! Very long-lasting utensils - my wife uses them for baking all the time.

Clarissa Draper said...

I would love to own a bent spoon made from bent wood. I'll bet those African spoons are cool too.

Morgan said...

I love wooden spoons! They're my favorite to use! I swear they make my pasta sauces taste better, LOL... ;-)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Teresa - as the book says "If we consider ..." so you're right about owning things from time immemorial .. and I reach for my spoons all the time.

@ Lee - thanks for adding to the story line - I hadn't picked up about the Chinese relinquishing the knife and the fork for chop-sticks ... that's fascinating.

Interesting too that the change was due to a belief that tearing meat at table was continuing on the killing of the animal or its soul.

@ Val - the poor wooden spoon in some contexts! Not used for its true purpose the stirring of the pot ..

@ Jen - thanks .. it's fascinating to look at everyday objects in a different way ..

@ Nutschell - good to see you.. isn't Barn the Spoon brilliant - loved seeing his work ... so am glad you do too ..

@ Alex - I'd forgotten the spork!

@ Sharon - thanks for following and commenting ... glad you enjoyed the post .. wooden spoons are the kitchen really aren't they ...

@ Slvia - now that was something I wanted to put in .. about the foods tasting different if the wrong wooden spoon was used .... as Lisa below mentions ..

@ Lisa - as Silvia mentions above - you've kept your grandmothers' wooden spoons - I can understand the need to keep them and use them.

I completely agree with you re using wood in the kitchen .. for spoons, cutting boards - my mother was outraged when wooden cutting boards were banned ... as they don't harbour germs the way plastic does. Thanks for highlighting this for us!

@ Nick - I expect your wife is a great baker and wooden spoons are an essential ..

@ Clarissa - well if you come to London town - Barn the Spoon has an outlet in Spitalfields ..

The African spoons are wonderful - so many different woods .. ebony, yellow wood .. they glow dark or gold.

@ Morgan - I'm sure your wooden spoons make your pasta sauces taste way better! Enjoy them ..

Cheers to you all - utensils have proved their worth over the millennia and now in writing too! Hilary

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Vegetables! Yum. But not as yum as that treacle tart looked! :)

Amanda Trought said...

I have a couple of really nice wooden spoons, not quite sure where I got them from but the wood is very sturdy and of course as you say, so many uses.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Michael is right: there is a timelessness about wooden spoons and yet a link to our mothers and to a time more innocent and warm. Great post.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I love my wooden spoons! But I noticed they're getting a bit worn out, so I was in town and checked out the prices. Eeck! I was shocked at the rise in prices.

TALON said...

Yay! for utensils! :)

You never fail to enlighten me, Hilary. Thank you!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Judy - V for vegetables are delicious aren't they .. and the treacle tart in the previous post - is a once in a while treat, sadly!

@ Amanda - did you possibly buy them in Jamaica - but you obviously enjoy using them to create dishes.

@ Roland - yes Michael did get the idea didn't he .. the artist in him - but I love looking at my spoons too ...

As you say though that link back to our childhood days and mother's apron .. were definitely more innocent and warm ...

@ Joylene - don't we all love our wooden spoons .... but even if they cost a few dollars or a few more dollars - they last a few decades - can't say that about many items in life.

@ Talon - aren't they just great .. and it was interesting to give some history ...

Cheers everyone - as Talon says - Yay for Utensils .. thanks - Hilary

Sara said...

It is interesting that some things change and somethings don't. It's amazing how wooden spoons are still in use so much today.

I enjoyed this post about them very much, especially the quote by Barn the Spoon:~)

Well done, Hilary...you're almost there!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Sara - utensils are an interesting topic .. and wooden spoons made a good interlude of something different.

Isn't Barn the Spoon - a fun character, with one of those wonderful talents ... he appears to have an apprentice - so perhaps he'll be able to pass on some of his tips and methodology to the next generation.

Thanks - yes W today .. cheers Hilary

Tina said...

I have MANY wooden spoons, but my favorite are the bamboo ones - just work better in my opinion. I have slotted, straight, bent...slotted bent...you get the idea. Will have to check out the spoon booby prize!

Tina @ Life is Good
Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge Blog
@TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

Deniz Bevan said...

Ooh! I shall have to look for a bent spoon for my kitchen...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Tina .. I so enjoyed writing this post - I've never used bamboo spoons, I must look out for some. Utensils come in such a range - it's amazing anyone knows which ones to use ..

@ Deniz - I wonder if you found a bent spoon ... it must be a true workman's one if you did find one in the recesses of your kitchen ..

Cheers to you both .. Hilary