Monday, March 19, 2007

Story Jar - Wooden Spoons

Story Jar - a bi-weekly column published in the Patriot and Free Press, Cuba, NY
copyright 2007 Elaine Hardman
Wooden Spoons

There was, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, an odd little store full of wooden toys and clocks. From the ceiling hung sculptures - dolls nested in junk - though that description cannot begin to give the picture of the fantasy and frolic within their creation. This store, The Idea Factory, also offered hand-carved wooden spoons and, of all the fancy in the store, these plains appealed to me most.

I wanted to buy one of those spoons, a cherry piece with curving handle and gentle bowl. Cherry is a wonderful rosy brown color. It has the feel of silk and a tight grain that resists moisture.

Rick said that he had a short of cherry at home that would become a spoon if I needed one. Need? Now there’s word of varied definition.

I have a small collection of spoons in one of my favorite pots. Though the pot holds many spoons and only one spurtle, I call the pot a “Spurtle Jar.”

My spurtle was found in a small shop in London, not nearly as curious as The Idea Factory. Both tool and name are Scottish. The spurtle is designed to stir porridge. Made of a white wood and holding a smooth finish after a decade of oatmeal service, my spurtle is a caricature of a tall, skinny, armless person with a round head and funnel hat.

Spurtle. What a great word. I bought every spurtle there and sprinkled them on my friends at home with liberal repetition of the word. Spurtle.

Towering above the spurtle is a sadza spoon from Zimbabwe. When we were in Zimbabwe it was a friendly country able to supply its people with sadza, corn porridge. Building-sized piles of sacks of corn were throughout the country. Their situation of plenty left these piles unguarded by fence or weapon because everyone was able to buy grain and stir huge pots of sadza with such a spoon. Shona people ate sadza as a warm cereal, cooled it and fed it to the village dogs or chilled it, so that as a congealed slab, the slices could be fried in a pan with spices.

This spoon is a paddle with no hollow bowl. The wood has become dark like the soil of the country and rough like the political climate that eliminated knowledgable farmers.

Huddling under the sadza spoon are common spoons, factory made, utilitarian pieces with no personality. I use them sometimes, when it seems not to matter but I really like the old spoons. These have come from antique shops or rummage sales, sometimes from the “free” boxes. They are heavier, smoother and darker than the new stuff.

I like to think that farmers made them while resting their bodies but using their hands. They were made for work in the kitchen so, while they might have a rounded bulge in the handle or a notch at the end for a string, the shoulders of the bowls are unfinished. They are strong spoons, a bit out of symmetry and darkened by years of soup and sauce.

There is one that is unwisely short. Stirring much of anything puts the hand in reach of the steam and popping bubbles but this spoon reminds me of my Aunt Genevieve, born December 1, 1912. Aunt Jay was fifty-two inches tall, a powerhouse of energy and a no-need-to-measure kind of cook. She would have had a spoon like this with a stout little handle that swells just at the center. She would have used it for stirring, tasting and pointing while she talked.

The bowl of this spoon is nicked in two places. It has been stirred flat on one edge, worn by age and discarded by its last owner. I like using it and the other old, damaged spoons with all their history and character.

Need or not, Rick made a new cherry spoon for me and hid it away until Christmas Eve to slip it into my stocking on the mantle. I hope to stir it flat on one side over the next many years so that someday a caring hand will admire its shape and ponder its creation.

An introduction to a few spoons from left to right: The cherry spoon Rick made, the bamboo spoon from SanBao in China, a rice spoon from Peru, a rummage sale spoon, a Peruvian spoon, the spurtle, a coconut shell spoon from Thailand, a coconut spoon from Malaysia, the newest spoon from Budapest. Photo at the beginning is of The Idea Factory, then there's a photo of some favorite spoons on the mantle in some favorite pottery and finally you can see the jumble of wooden tools in a market in Cusco, Peru.

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