Monday, April 19, 2010

The Care of Wooden Cooking Utensils

Wood is an ancient material adapted to make beautiful and serviceable utensils. It does however, require more care that either of the other choices available. The trick is, the care is very simple and not at all hard to do – but it must be consistent. One big goof can relegate your treasured olive soup spoon to the craft drawer. Perhaps I should say goof off – because it is usually laziness that leads to tragedy with wooden utensils. Let’s examine the things needed to keep our wooden items spotless, safe and useful.

As I said in my last post, I really do believe that all forms of cooking utensils have their place. I meant that, but we all have our favorites. I still support plastic in certain circumstances, especially for trying out new things or outfitting a kitchen on a budget. However, my love of tradition and quality has led me to a collection of wood utensils supported by a few key pieces in heavy stainless steel.

My collection includes a pair of cheap spoons I use when I worry about staining. The plan was to toss them, but they have stayed stain free so far – who knew? I also have several pieces that my father carved for our family out of oak. These handmade pieces are true reminders of quality, family and self reliance. I treasure them, but I use them. The bulk of the collection is good solid beech wood items I got from Amazon.

The whole secret to keeping your wooden cooking utensils in great shape is simple but consistent maintenance. Here is a list of three things that will keep your utensils in peak shape and turn them into heirlooms.

1. Hand wash your wooden utensils. Use a mild detergent and wash in warm water

2. Dry them immediately and thoroughly. Keep them in a dry place

3. Oil them with food grade mineral oil at least twice a year – or as needed.

These simple things will keep your wooden cooking items sanitary, stain free and will help to keep them smooth and waterproof. However, eventually time and use will begin to raise the grain on your utensils. They will begin to develop a fuzzy feel to them. This is natural and is easily remedied. All that is needed is a little piece of fine sand paper. Anything from 400 to 600 grit will work. Simply sand the surface lightly and gently and it will remove all the fuzz. Be gently and take your time.

The number one way to really damage your wooden cooking utensils is to leave them in standing water. Even a well oiled spoon will absorb water if left overnight. The wood grain will darken and the surface grain will be raised and made rough and therefore able to absorb even more water the next time it gets left wet. If you do make this mistake, you can save the surface by careful and complete sanding. The dark stains are most likely permanent, although I have some success with coating them salt and lemon juice and placing them in the sun for a few hours. Bleach could be used as a last resort. Odds are that the color will remain dark but you can lighten it up a little. The key is never ever leaving your utensils soaking in water!

Finally, let’s go into a little more detail about oiling. First be careful not to use any cooking oils. They will all go rancid eventually. Some of the nut oils may be ok, but then you run the risk of allergies. There are special oils for cutting boards that sell in the hardware and home improvement stores. These are great, but you are paying a whole lot extra for nothing except maybe a little beeswax. No, plain simple mineral oil is the best choice. Be sure to get it from the pharmacy – that way you can be sure it is food grade. To oil the utensils simply coat them with a generous layer of oil. It should be put on until it is running off freely. Place them on a rack or raise one end so the excess oil runs off. You don’t want the excess to puddle on them because it can cause uneven coloring. Allow the oil to soak for at least 10 minutes and up to overnight. Then wipe them all with a clean cloth and admire the rich grain and intense coloring. Do this at least twice a year or whenever a piece begins to look dull. Also certainly, one will need to oil them after any sanding is done. Maintaining your kitchen tools is a big step towards self reliance.

A purchase of good wooden cooking utensils is an investment in tradition and beauty. Wood may not be the space age answer to cooking. It may not be as durable as steel, or as cheap as plastic, but wood is magic. That’s right, magic. When I use my wooden spoons I stand with memories of my father, my grandmother. Centuries of love and care were stirred with spoons just like these. Descendants ages past used them to stir porridge on a cold morning and dish it up with little pats of butter and heaping spoonfuls of love. Simple living may not always mean doing things the easiest way. Simple can relate to more than just output divided by effort. Sometimes it is turning away from the efficient and towards what feels best. Sometimes simple living is magic. Give it a chance.

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