Strolling along the river in Ljubljana I came across a fascinating market stall with every kind of richly-coloured, textured, twisting and bending, wooden spoons. Of course, I had to stop.
Praznik Matija introduced himself as the creator of these beauties. Did I know that spoons made of different types of wood can change and enhance the flavour of the food they were stirring?
The flavour of the wood
“It’s better to use different woods for different types of dish.” Praznik tells me. “Wood has a taste of its own. Spoons that you might use for eating are best made out of beech wood or fruit wood of some kind, whereas woods with a larger amount of tannin – for example, walnut, oak, olive and chestnut – all give a more bitter taste, they are perfect for stirring a well-seasoned, spicy stew.
Walnut, in fact, as well as the tannin, has a slightly spicy taste”. Walnut was one of Praznik’s favourite woods for making spoons for this reason, it was mine too, not just for the intriguing flavour, but also just aesthetically – it’s a really beautiful wood.
Praznik recommends using a wooden spatula with butter – it makes the butter sweeter.
And then there is also the fact that a wooden spoon will taken on flavours. This is not so strange when you consider that barrels used for sherry or port are sold on to whisky manufacturers. If you use a spoon regularly to make tomato sauce, for example, that spoon will also add a richness to your gravy.
Talking about tomato sauce, an acidic substance, any wooden spoon will be better than a metal one as metal can give a metallic taste to low pH foods.
The feel of the wood
There’s no doubt about it – wood feels wonderful. If you compare it to metal it’s soft, rounded and warm, but it won’t get so hot you can’t hold it. If you compare it to silicon it’s living, natural.
Like knives, a wooden spoon is all about shape and balance. So it’s important, when buying, to try the spoon carefully in your hand. I was amazed at the difference – and it’s not just about weight – the angle of the bowl, the flatness-roundness, and the length of the handle all make a difference.
The width of the handle also makes a difference, and this is another score for wood over metal. Most metal spoons have thin handles, requiring more grip. Wooden spoons have thicker handles, and Praznik’s are twisted, moulding themselves to your fingers and the curve of your hand.
And metal spoons have sharpish edges – they can damage your more delicate ingredients and the non-stick surfaces of your pans – wooden spoons are softer and kinder.
If you don’t have an Aga, and you’re making a risotto, you have a good twenty minutes of stirring ahead of you – a comfortable, old-slipper-like-old-friend of a spoon will halve the work of the chore.
The sum total
If you consider the flavour and feel of the wood, together with its natural beauty, and throw in a pinch, or two, of nostalgia (everyone has a wooden spoon belonging to their mother don’t they?) you have a thing of beauty and a joy forever. A wooden spoon is a philosophy. As Aristotle would say, it’s an implement where “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. You could never say that about either a metal, or a silicon spoon. If you have poetry in your soul you will go with wood.
Care of your wooden spoons
However, if you are of a purely practical mind, and you are concerned about time and effort you might well go for silicon (see The Spoon Which Makes It Worth Overcoming Your Nostalgia for Wood). You can put silicon spoons in the dishwasher, which Praznik, with a look of horror, says is an absolute no-no for wood.
Wooden spoons require more care. Praznik recommends applying some edible protection oil once or twice a year – hemp oil he says has the most neutral smell and taste whereas sesame oil withstands heat and is best used for spoons used for frying. Alternative edible protection oils are flax and poppyseed.
Don’t soak your wooden spoon either, advises Praznik, wash and dry it immediately.
And if it starts to smell, wash it first, and then wipe it with bicarbonate of soda mixed with the juice of half a lemon. Then rinse it with water and leave it to dry.
In the UK you can buy beautiful wooden spoons, and you can also go to a workshop and make your own spoon at Grain and Knot.