I have quite a collection of wooden spoons. I love the look and the feel of them, but also the practicality of them. Wooden spoons don't scratch your pans or bowls, they don't conduct heat, they don't react with your food or leave harmful chemicals, or change the cooking temperature. The photo on the right is of some of my wooden spoons I keep in a metal egg basket. I keep it on the bench top beside the stove and I like it because I can see whichever spoon I want at a glance.
Some of my spoons are beautifully carved, some are simple but hand-made, and others are probably machine-made. Some were gifts from people who know I like lovely wooden spoons. A few are souvenirs.
Wooden spoons are pretty much universal and reflect the domestic life of ordinary people. They have a very long history, probably starting from the earliest times of human cooking, when sticks were used to stir or cook food. Spoons predate forks by thousands of years, going back as far as the Paleolithic Era. Wooden spoons have been uncovered alongside gold and silver versions in the tombs of ancient Egyptians, indicating that their owners saw them as useful enough to be considered essential even in the afterlife.
In Scotland that "stick" tradition hasn't moved far when it comes to using a spurtle to stir the porridge — except that spurtles these days are often turned and sometimes have a decorative handle, like this one with a thistle end, that my dad gave me many years ago. I tend not to use it much: instead I use the spoon beside it for porridge, which had a pointy end that was great for scooping the porridge out of the bottom "edges" of the saucepan. You can see how that pointy end has worn down over the years.
The Vikings were celebrated spoon carvers and examples of decorated spoons have been found across Scandinavia and to the UK city of York. Their decorated spoons used a technique called kolrosing where a pattern is incised in the spoon with a knife. Traditionally, charcoal or coal dust was then rubbed into the lines to accentuate the pattern.
The design of wooden spoons vary to suit the purpose; some are simply for stirring or eating; some have a flat edge useful for scraping the bottom of the pan; others have a deeply scooped bowl and are used as ladles. Some places have a tradition of carving wooden spoons for a love token, or a funeral token.
Many people use a tea scoop, which is kept in the tin or jar to measure out loose-leaf tea. My parents had one that I think one of my sisters now has, but I have one of my own. They're always short-handled so they can sit in the tea caddy or tin. That's mine in the photo on the right.
My favorites, of course, are the beautiful hand-carved spoons. I have such trouble resisting them when I see them for sale, even though I know I have quite enough, and some are very expensive. But look at the spoons below. They are probably too delicate to use in an everyday sense, but aren't they beautiful? These were made by Giles Newman in the UK and you can visit his website here and read about how he collects the wood and uses just four tools to make them.
It reminded me of when I was in my first year teaching. It was at an all-boys secondary (high) school, and there were only a few woman teachers. One of my friends, also new, was an art teacher who was given a woodwork class. The boys (and some of the teachers) were quite scornful of a female teaching woodwork, but my friend was very clever.
She set them a task they initially thought was too simple for words — to carve a wooden spoon. She took them out to the bush, where they selected suitable bits of fallen wood, which they brought back to school to hand-carve a spoon. The boys went from scornful to fascinated, as they studied the shape of the fallen wood to decide which would make the best spoons. And some of the spoons —especially those by the boys who had been really careful in their wood selection— were beautiful. It became a hugely popular activity — especially with the boys' mothers, who used, and treasured them. In fact on parent teacher night my friend always had so many mums coming up to say thank you.
If seeing these hand-carved spoons inspires you, just google youtube spoon carving. There are lots of how-to videos there.
Of course then there's things like a wooden spoon award for people coming last in something, and people used to threaten kids with a whack from a wooden spoon. I hope both of these "traditions" are dying out. Wooden spoons are something to be used, treasured and handed down, not used as a joke or a punishment.
Now, over to you — Do you like wooden spoons? Use them much? Do you have any special ones?