I remember the exact moment that began my lifetime of collecting wooden spoons. It was 20 years ago and I was hanging out with my friend Trudy as she cooked on her Garland, a commercial range which was rarely seen in home kitchens, and was the mark of a very serious cook. Just to the side of the stove, there was a canister crammed with all kinds of wooden spoons: light, dark, tall, short, fat-handled, and fragile-looking. I pulled one out that had a squat handle and long flat bowl.
"This is cool-looking," I said. "What do you use it for?"
She told me how she had bought it the summer she took her girls to live in Provence, and how the older woman there who gave her cooking lessons used one just like it. She told me about the dishes she learned to make in the French countryside that summer, and how the smell of leeks cooking — and that spoon — always remind her of happily sweltering in the kitchen while her girls played just outside the open windows.
Now I have my own collection that helps me nourish my family while they nourish memories of my travels.
A short spoon with a shallow, round bowl made from deeply grained wood reminds me of the young Loatian mother, sitting cross-legged on a blanket with a baby suckling at her breast, her hand-cut wooden kitchen tools displayed in front of her.
I spotted my elegant olive wood spoon with a flat bowl across a pile of gleaming tomatoes while strolling through food stalls in Florence with my husband.
This funny blond spoon with a craggy oval bowl brings me back to the oppressive humidity at a night market in Kaifeng, China, where the legendary watermelons glowed under the harsh lights.
Every spoon tells a story, and just as importantly, every spoon has a function in my kitchen. This simplest of kitchen tools is as abundantly practical as it is enchanting. The spoons I have gathered toss hot farfalle with wilted spinach and oozing cherry tomatoes, mix brownie batter, and stir chicken soup. I bring them to my stove, where they inform my cooking with the flavors and experiences I've gathered.
Ready to start stocking up on wooden spoons? Here are five reasons why wooden spoons are the best kitchen tool (besides knives).
5 Reasons to Start a Collection of Wooden Spoons
1. They make good, cheap souvenirs.
Wooden spoons are the ultimate inexpensive souvenirs that, unlike snow globes and post cards, do not end up tucked in the back of a drawer or closet. Plus, where and how you buy them is usually more memorable because they are not the sort of thing you find in tourist traps.
2. They don't discriminate.
They work very well with all your cookware. They are as perfectly suited to the surface of your nonstick skillets as they are to cast iron and clad pans.
3. They're easy to clean.
If anything ever does get stuck on the surface, the scrubbie side of a sponge will take care of it. In 20 years, I have yet to come across anything I couldn't easily clean off a spoon. (But don't put them in the dishwasher, where the high temperatures and prolonged exposure to water will cause them to splinter.)
Get the Scoop: Caring for Wooden Utensils
4. They store well.
They lie flat in your drawer without poking up and getting the drawer jammed. (Take that, potato masher!). Or, stand them up in a canister and you can pick out exactly the right one for the job in a hurry.
5. They're beautiful.
In their own quiet way, the different woods and shapes have an elegant, understated, and utilitarian beauty that adds warmth and functionality to my counter. Also when treated right, like wine and cheese, they will improve with age and use. My oldest, most beloved spoons are smoother to the touch, as though to show their appreciation for my devotion.
Ready to Shop? 10 Gorgeous Wooden Spoons You Almost Don't Want to Use