Early on a January morning, two weeks before my birthday quite some years ago, I found myself in the village of Woodstock, Connecticut, in a snow-bound woodworking shack with very little heat, scary power tools, a scarier outhouse, and no coffee.
It was the perfect place to celebrate the end of my 50th birthday year, a year in which I'd promised to make my own gift, and with just a few weeks to go until 51, I did it.
I made a wooden spoon. From scratch. From a tree that fell in Woodstock.
I'd been thinking for months about how to mark the occasion of my 50th. I didn't want a party, though my husband Ted and friends surprised me with a grand party that made me very happy. I didn't want bling, I didn't want books, I didn't want dinner, I didn't want stuff.
What I wanted was to try to make something I'd never tried before.
I needed help, of course, and after meeting woodworker Meb Boden at a craft fair, I asked if she would teach me to make a spoon. She and her husband Tom, a cabinet maker, work together in the shack, which has electricity but no running water, and they live nearby on more than a thousand off-the-grid acres of wooded land that provides an endless supply of raw material for their art.
Meb gently guided me through the whole process, from selecting the block of wood (from a maple tree that had lived on her road), through design, carving, shaping, polishing, and sealing. It took seven hours, several trips to that very cold outhouse, and a restorative bowl of soup at midday to create my single spoon.
Of all, the best part of the day came right at the end. I'd chosen my wood based on size and pedigree -- I didn't want fruit wood, and I needed a large enough piece so that the spoon could have a long handle -- and as we carved and sanded the spoon, we took its maple-ness for granted. But when I rubbed oil into it at the end, the final step in the process, both Meb and I gasped. The grain of the wood, the whorls and patterns, were so much more intricate than we'd realized! The majesty of the spoon revealed... it was the gift in the Cracker Jack box.
Making this wooden spoon was an experience I'll never forget, and to this day I've not seen another spoon quite like mine. It's my absolute favorite of the more than 200 wooden utensils in my kitchen. I use it to stir soups and sauces, toss salads, and taste meatballs. The spoon fits my hand, the length suits my height, and the slightly lopsided shape makes me giggle.
I'll probably never make another spoon, so I hope this one lasts a lifetime.
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.