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May 1, 2011

Spoon Stories: The only wooden spoon I ever made

Myspoon1

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.

Myspoon2

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.

Myspoonback

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.

Myspoonwhole

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.

Comments

The scariest part of that story (at least to me) was "no coffee"!

That's so cool! I would never think to do something like that. Funny that you did it as a birthday thing...sounds like the start of a very interesting "bucket list." ;)

Wow! That is truly beautiful -- even more so because you use it. What a perfect gift to yourself. Thank you for sharing it and its story with us.

Wonderful! I wanna make a spoon and similar fond memories. <3

That is amazing Lydia. It is truly a beautiful spoon!

I LOVE THIS IDEA! And the spoon is gorgeous. How neat that you get to use it everyday, and it was made to fit YOU. By YOU!!
I WANT A SPOON!
Thanks for sharing, Lydia!

Also curious, Lydia: what other criteria did you have, besides the long handle?

The spoon is beautiful and so is your story. Really special! Thank you so much for sharing... and inspiring!

What an awesome spoon. Love the grain in the wood and the story, except the outhouse. LOL! Thanks for sharing.

It's beautiful!

How Cool!

What a beautiful spoon and an equally lovely story to go along with it. :-)

Since you began mentioning your collection of wooden utensils, I think of you when I use mine.

So glad you're enjoying the first of my spoon stories!

Michael, no coffee and power tools. A combination way beyond scary!

Chris, I don't really have a bucket list, but I'd made a wooden bowl a few months earlier as part of an assignment from the magazine I wrote for at the time, so that's what got me thinking about making a spoon. That, and the fact that I have a ridiculously large collection of wooden spoons and kitchen tools.

Susie, I knew I wanted to make a mixing spoon, because I make soups and stews all the time. So that was the reason for the long handle. Also, I have several spoons I've bought over the years from a spoon carver in Venice, Italy (near the Rialto Market, for anyone who's going), and I liked the shape of the bowl, which comes to a bit of a point. And I didn't want fruit wood, which often imparts its own flavor. So those were the criteria. Beyond that, I wanted a well-proportioned spoon. And I wanted one that looked handmade, though I didn't set out to make it asymmetrical. The crookedness happened from my lack of carving experience, but I love it.

What beauty! Form and function, "imperfection" and cooperating wood spirits...

Beautiful spoon! I like the shape. It looks perfect for getting all the good bits off the side of the pot as you stir. :-)

I love the spoon story and especially love that you did it for a milestone birthday! For my 50th birthday I wanted to do something I'd never done and I went on a cruise around the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic ocean. It was memorable, but nothing to show for it like you have with your spoon.

I got misty eyed and cried a little, after reading your story. I was just telling a young friend of mine how she should learn to celebrate herself and learn to give herself gifts.
Your story (which I will share with her) is so timely
Thanks

Susan, the wood spirits were definitely looking over my shoulder that day, and every time I use my spoon, I give thanks to them for guiding my hand.

Sage, the shape of the spoon really works for getting into the corners of the pot.

Kalyn, a cruise around the Mediterranean sounds divine, and I'm guessing you have a lifetime of beautiful images in your memory from that trip.

Kim, thank you for your kind words. There is no gift quite as special as the one you choose for yourself. Your friend is lucky to have you to encourage her.

Thanks for the latest book recommendation. I've just spent a good bit of time looking at the book listing and their blog. Very inspiring, art and food. Looks yummy!

I have to make my own spoon! That is mind blowing fabulous!

Wow-wee. Simply exquisite. What a gift to give yourself and what a story-gift to share with your faithful readers. Thanks.

No coffee, and you MADE this? I'm impressed. It's absolutely gorgeous. What an extraordinary remembrance of your 50/51 year.

Beautiful, absolutely beautiful!

Susan, I think you mean "They Draw and Cook", and I'm really excited about that, too.

TW, it *is* a miracle, isn't it, that I managed power tools with no coffee. But I did, I promise.

What a gift and an awesome experience. I wouldn't even know how to begin!

That was a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing the perfect representation of your passion.

What a lovely spoon! I bought my husband wood carving tools for his birthday, with a polite request that if he got to enjoying it, he could make us a spoon :-).

I love your spoon - it's beautiful : )

Kristen, I didn't know how to begin, either, which is why I asked a woodworker (and spoon maker) to help me. I also have a healthy fear of power tools, and was very nervous about that part of the process. The hand tools, and especially fine-tuning my spoon shape, were easier for me. But a big part of this project was about overcoming fear, both of the power tools and also of my own lack of artistic ability.

Carol, I still think making the spoon was the perfect way to begin the second half-century of my life.

Queen, if he doesn't get around to it, do it yourself. Really, it's worth it.

David, thanks. It's been nearly a decade since I made it, and I still love it and use it.

A beautiful spoon for the soul. I'm thinking of all the wonderful food your spoon has mixed and tossed and tasted! If it could talk, I wonder what it would say.

Dear Lydia,
I was so very pleased to read about and see the wooden spoon you made with me so long ago--the beginning of my career, really. Five years ago, Tom joined me full-time in the workshop and we work on most pieces together, a creative dance that’s very satisfying. Our workshop has many more scary power tools specially adapted to our work and we host a great Open Studios tour -- http://www.aosct.org/ --two weekends a year where I demonstrate the unique tools we use. We go to 20 craft shows annually and have built quite a nice following of people who love to cook and entertain.
But rarely a week goes by that I don’t remember our day together. Whether I’m questioning someone who has requested a custom-made piece or just looking at a block of wood, wondering what to make of it, I draw on your excitement, curiosity and anticipation to find the right spoon in each chunk.
My memory of that time is that I first visited your home, checked out your very organized kitchen, gawked at your awesome spoon collection and ate a lovely, fragrant potage and fresh bread lunch. You chose five spoons—each with a property that you wanted to incorporate into YOUR spoon.
Making that spoon, tossing around ideas with you, choosing that very cool wood—these things “upped the bar” for my woodworking at a critical time in my life. And that pointy tip that gets into the corner of the pot has become part of my most functional, best-selling “Sauté Spoon”. Thanks to you!
I’m so grateful that our paths crossed. You continue to inspire me with the fine flavor of your writing and projects. Perhaps you’d like to make something else for your next decade? I promise to have coffee this time!
Fondly,
Meb

PS: I’ve always had a link to The Perfect Pantry on my website and am excited to send the May 1 issue to my customers—I know they’ll love what you do! And this year I hope to finish my article “What I Look for in a Wooden Spoon” and pursue giving spoon-making classes. Thank you so much.
PPS: Are those photos of your spoon NOW? If so, people really will believe me—that you can really USE a wooden spoon and still have it look GORGEOUS!

Meb, yes indeed, this is the spoon now (just a week ago). Hasn't it aged well? We have, too! Thanks so much for stopping by to share a bit more of our story.

I want to go to a spoon making class!!! Sign me up! I have such a thing for the right wooden utensil. Great great story. To me it would be a perfect way to mark a special birthday too.

What a great story. Thanks Meb for sharing it. I have several
beautiful Meb made spoons including a special custom left handed mixing spoon. And I also have an olive wood Palestinian made spoon
I bought in East Jerusalem. Unlike my silver and stainless steel utensils every wooden piece that I have feels good, looks good, and has a story to tell.
John Goodwin, Demarest, NJ

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