Many people in the world have no idea how good a wooden spoon can be so I have put together some of the best from my own kitchen collection. Have a look at these below, all carved by hand with an axe and knife. Each one a functional sculpture. Who would not want to banish plastic and metal from their kitchen if they had these gorgeous tools to use, cooking and serving good food becomes a joy.
First up a ladle by Peter Kohidi of Hungary, made in Alder I bought this one maybe 15 years ago and it works just perfectly.
Next up a cooking spoon by Fritiof Runhall, possibly the best spooncarver in the world. This simple elegant style hides an incredible level of skill, knowledge of materials and design.
No4 is a cooking spoon. This one was made by Ion Constantin a Romanian Gypsy carver I visited and recorded in 1998 though the style is made widely in Eastern Europe. They are fast to make but work incredibly well. I have several of these that gave over 10 years hard use before being retired to my spoon museum collection. They are made in softer hardwoods like poplar and willow, Ion carved one of these from a log in 10 minutes.
Next a serving spoon made by my great friend Barn Carder. This was inspired by the spoon above but scaled up. It no longer functions as a cooking spoon but makes a great server with the sharp leading edge being perfect for cutting into a lasagne. This is a very early example of Barn’s lettering and says “I believe in replication” which refers partly to the importance of repetition in learning craftwork and partly to the power of memes. It’s carved from cherry sapwood.
This spoon is the only one that is here primarily because it represents something else. I have known craftsman Keith Matthews for many years but it was not until spoonfest 2011 that he got the spooncarving bug. He was so inspired that he went away and carved a spoon every day for 365 days. I bought no 1 and no 365 along with a few more along the way. It was a remarkable journey that inspired many others.
Another serving spoon by Peter Kohidi this one is a dream to use, the leading edge is a great slicer and you can scoop a great serving or pasta bake ot cottage pie in one go, it’s made from beech.
One more by Peter Kohidi, it was Peter who first made me realise that a spoon did not need to be sanded. When I first started buying his spoons around 15 years ago the few spooncarvers that there were in the UK then all sanded our spoons. Peter’s knife cut finish was a revelation and very soon many of us were trying to emulate it. This one is walnut.
Back to cooking spoons now and any spoon with a patina like this is worth a closer look. It’s the good ones that get used. I made this one in 1998 from rowan. I was inspired by the Romanian cooking spoons but wanted something a little lighter, more refined and with a flat, angled leading edge to scrape the bottom of the pan. It worked really well for 15 years before finally breaking, just a touch too thin on the handle.
This is another spoon of mine and it has inspired more copies than any other spoon I know. For many years I made spoons for re-enactors, they wanted authentic medieval spoons but most medieval spoons are not wonderful designs and do not suit modern eating styles. I found a great octagonal handled design when studying medieval woodware in Lubeck Germany, using that spoon as inspiration I gradually evolved this octagonal handled spoon. My friend Barn popularised the design and it has been much replicated all over the world since. I wonder what that medieval carver from Lubeck would think?
Now another spoon from Barn, I think this is the first spoon I bought from him maybe around 2010. It is a large cooking spoon with the octagonal handle borrowed from the Lubeck spoon. It works a treat and spins beautifully in the hand when cooking. It is very robust and you can tap it solidly on the edge of the pan to dislodge it’s contents as any cook does.
Now one more spoon of mine, this is the design of eating spoon I have carved more than any other. I call this my Galician spoon and have blogged about them here and first showed how I made production runs from radially cleft wood here It is a great design which just works well. The leading edge has no short grain even when made from straight grained wood so you can scrape your bowl clean without damaging the spoon. It’s not an easy thing to explain but this design just works really well as an eating spoon. This is the same spoon shown in my 2009 blog post and is ageing nicely, it is used every day.
Now eating spoons are really the masterpieces of wooden spoon design. To make something that is beautiful to look at from every angle, fits your body, your mouth, the curvature of eating bowl that you use, is light and strong and understands the strengths and weaknesses of the wood is a very tall order. Compared to a sculptor who only has to consider how it looks this is tough. This eating spoon is another by Fritiof Runhall, made from a bent piece of birch wood so that the fibres of the wood follow around the curve of the spoon, great work.
This is a second eating spoon by Fritiof, no photo can do this spoon justice but it is a seminal point in UK wooden spoon carving. Fritiof presented this spoon at Spoonfest 2012 and explained how he had been studying the spoons he had made over the previous 10 years alongside old spoons in museums. He came to the conclusion he did not like any of his spoons. It is only through this sort of self criticism and deep analysis that you get to be the best. Anyway he redesigned the bowl shape in ways that make them just pop out of your mouth like sucking a lollipop. He gave this spoon to my daughter Jojo and it has been a huge inspiration.
This is what for many years I considered the ultimate eating spoon. Carved by Swedish spooncarving legend Wille Sundqvist from a fruitwood, very thin and finely sanded. It was a thing of great beauty and my daughter Jojo ate with it for 10 years until it finally broke when digging ice cream out of the tub. Maybe it is just a little too thin or maybe spoons of this type need handling very carefully. I am more into designing spoons that will take harder knocks so am carving a little thicker today. It is only through years of testing and analysis if ever that a spooncarver finds where the optimum lies.
Now this spoon is carved by someone who claims not to be a spooncarver and yet it is one of the best spoons I have ever used. Anja Sundberg is just too talented, this one is in Jojo’s collection too, I am very envious. This spoon is the last and I think greatest from my friend Barn. I love the gorgeous sweeping 3 dimensional curves of the handle. The finish on the inside of the bowl is like glass and the result of much experimentation with different types of hook knives. Barn has shared this knowledge freely and it has now become almost standard though folk call the resulting knives “twca cams” rather than crediting Barn with reintroducing this technique. This particular spoon is a reinvention of the Welsh cawl spoon, this is the epitome of traditional craft for me, taking an old design and working within that tradition whilst bringing it up to date. I eat with this spoon often and it is a real pleasure.
Now we are down to the final three and whilst the spoons above are not in any order I think I have saved the best three spoons in my collection for the last. These are the highlights from a collection of maybe 250 functional sculptural spoons made, used, bought and analysed over a 20 year period. Of all the spoons I have this is my most treasured eating spoon. It was made a few months ago by my daughter Jojo. The wood is plum, hard, beautiful and takes an amazing finish off the knife. The spoon bowl has the special lollipop mouth feel of Fritiof’s latest spoons, I loved it so much I tried hard for months to buy it from her for my collection offering twice what I sell my spoons for but she was not selling. Yesterday she gave it to me for Christmas. I am so proud of the work she does and will enjoy using this spoon so much.
So to the second best spoon in the world, it’s a pair actually of tiny salad servers by Fritiof. I don’t know how something can be so traditional and so modern at the same time, perfect scandinavian design.
And the best spoon in the world, I know it is subjective but I would challenge anyone to show me a better spoon than this gorgeous applewood ladle with gold leaf finial. You can see it in use and get an idea of the scale here.
These 20 incredible functional sculptures all together cost less than a print by most named artists or the cost of a couple of typical electrical kitchen gadgets. Many have already done 10-15 years work and many I will pass on as heirlooms in the family. I hope it has encouraged you to seek out and buy yourself some really wonderful wooden spoons for your kitchen. Why not share this post with your friends and spread the love of wooden spoons.