August 9th, 2008

the most valuable tool in my kitchen, or, in defense of the wooden spoon

spoons

have you ever seen those people in bed bath and beyond or sur la table wandering around the kitchen appliances? staring longingly into the stainless steel bowl of a kitchenaid mixer, drool pooling up at their feet – you know the type. well, stop staring at us, it’s not polite.

really, it’s harder than it looks to resist the shiny gleam of kitchen gadgets. how many times have you been walking through the store, hefted some industrial marvel of kitchen gadgetry in your hands and thought, “i make pretty a good sandwich, but if i had this panini press then i could make a really professional sandwich,” or “why get a regular toaster when i could have one that makes 10 slices at a time and cooks eggs and bacon for me when i wake up – and does my taxes while i wait!”

the at-home amateur cook is tempted by the promise that somehow an elaborate and expensive tool can help their cooking rise out of mediocrity. the only problem is that good chefs and bakers don’t get better by using gadgets – they get better by practicing and testing themselves, mastering simple techniques and experimenting to break through culinary barriers that they or others have put up. in other words, it’s got nothing to do with gadgets.

the only gadgets i need are wooden spoons. the three above have saved me countless times in the kitchen. the one on the far left is the longest, my soup spoon, used exclusively for my giant soup pot (it’s about time i made some summer corn chowder…). the middle one is…pink. why? black cherry kool-aid! this spoon is used only to mix kool-aid which, if you didn’t know, stains anything it touches before it’s completely dissolved.

the spoon on the far right – this is my best friend. this one, the smallest, was used in every single recipe on this site. even with a food processor and standing mixer, this wooden spoon is still my perfect kitchen tool. we’ve been through everything together – doughs, icings, sauces (tomato and alfredo), stir-frys, cakes, cookies, soups, custards, tarts – i’ve even whipped cream with it and gotten stiff peaks. i can say with confidence that no matter what the recipe says, it can be done with little more than a wooden spoon and a bowl.

so tell me, what’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?



16 Comments for the most valuable tool in my kitchen, or, in defense of the wooden spoon - why not leave some love?

  1. Peebs says:

    I can’t work in my kitchen without my wooden spoons, either. I love them…and my santoku knives. No other knives are needed, since I bought the 5″ and 7″ Santoku’s, they’re fab.

  2. Y says:

    I was wondering about that pink spoon! It’s so pretty, it actually looks like it was manufactured pink. I’m a big fan of my little heat resistant spatula which manages to get at every corner of a pot or container.

  3. Sally says:

    I too love my wooden spoons, but also made of wood and very much loved and used is my SPURTLE. What is that? I hear you say. lol
    Granny gave me my first one from http://teandwheatenbread.blogspot.com
    and now have 5 or 6 in constant use.
    Try googling it for more info.
    Must spread the word re SPURTLES.

  4. Firefly says:

    Ah yes, the wooden spoon. What would we do without them?
    However, they take second place for me.

    I don’t think I could live without my absolutely ginormous and ancient measuring cup.
    It’s huge!
    Large enough in fact that it is my number one mixing bowl and I’m able to do the majority of my measuing right in it.
    And of course, since it’s a measuring cup, it has a handle and a spout.
    I love it.

  5. Matthew says:

    I have an orange spoon- from curries!, how many wooden spoons have you guys broken, they are quite deadly when stirring a stiff custard and a mid piece hurtles towards your eye!

  6. tara says:

    I do love my wooden utensils; a particular fave is an olive wood spatula like piece, which I use almost daily. It is perfect for stirring or scraping the bottom of a pan. I use it so much that I sought to get a second one for those times that it is dirty; evidently the original is one of a kind, as the second snapped the first time I attempted to make polenta with it!

  7. mike d says:

    I am in wholehearted solidarity with the wooden spoon. This summer, I’ve made some of the best bread of my life, and the only baking utensils I have are a spoon, a pyrex crock pot, and two mason jars.

    Perhaps this is latent germophobia, but over the winter I became paranoid of my wooden spoons, and thought that there could be something lurking the porous material. I’ve grown out of it, but wonder if this has occurred to anyone else.

    • D. Sullivan says:

      1. Years ago (c 1991?) there was a study comparing wood and plastic cutting boards, regarding which was more sanitary. Both were left out overnight with bacteria on them. The bacteria multiplied on the plastic board and the wood board killed them, is how I remember the results. This is a totally unscientific garbling of scientific data to make the bottom line point – don’t worry about “germs” on your wood spoon, it can take care of itself. Save the worry for your more-clean-looking plastic stuff.

      2. My comparable implement is a wood spatula-like thing that has the perfect shape and curved-ness and flat-ness and width and thinness and flex and firmness. I think it was a freebie that came with a wok I bought in the 1980s. We use the wok maybe every 6 months but have used the wood tool almost daily for many years. I have owned sort of similar ones from Williams Sonoma, Sur La Table, etc. But 1) none are nearly as well-designed, they don’t have the right graceful curve and they are far less useful and look ugly, and 2) as with Tara’s experience in the comment above, they break but for some reason this one goes on and on. One day it will snap, which will be a sad day in my kitchen history.

      3. Great cookbook/memoir is “Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons” by Verta Mae Grosvenor-Smart. Names from memory, un-fact-checked. As I recall she discourses at length about the virtues of wooden spoons.

      • D. Sullivan says:

        On #3 I mixed up 2 books next to each other on my shelf. Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons is a cookbook from Africa and the African-influenced New World. The book by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor is Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl.

  8. […] it, but it actually made a difference. pretty much everything i’ve made so far was mixed with my favorite wooden spoon and sheer willpower, but the convenience of a standing mixer is, duh, a pretty sweet convenience. […]

  9. Rick says:

    That’s a good question.
    I have a $35 stand-up mixer by Hamilton Beach. Haven’t been able to find the difference between that and one of those $250 jobs except that mine has a glass mixing bowl. (Dough and metal can cause an adverse chemical reaction ruining your dough. I do a lot of Artisan baking.)
    Then there’s all my glass bowls. They’re heavier then metal and move around much less when stirring in them and won’t cause that adverse chemical reaction to food.
    Now, there’s all my measuring devices of plastic, cups and spoons of all sizes. (I have one set of metal cups for melting or heating stuff.)
    And, of course, my wooden spoons… but a good quality rubber spatula might be close to the top, here. (I have a few of those as well.)
    All my greatest recipes can be found on my friend’s web site. (Mine are all numbered, btw.)
    http://hawkdawg.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=29&sid=e0666144fd651f323f4d36157f6be7fa

    Enjoy!
    Rick

  10. My most valuable is my “rachel ray” knife. I’ve been in the kitchen for over 30 years and I got my first wooden spoon set this summer. i just didn’t think it was necessary. it has become my second most valueable and used kitchen tool.

  11. Jill Corish says:

    I had several wonderful hard wood spoons that I brought back from a trip to Sarajevo. One very cold winter here, when my cat was ver old, we got ice in the broiler drawer of the stove. There must have been a hole in the wall behind the stove. The mice ate the tops of the spoons that were stored in the gadget turn-around on the counter. I was crushed – I LOVED those spoons and they’d been through a LOT with me. The ones I have now are no-where near as good but they are definitely better than plastic or metal. We have two new cats, and no mice…

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