Friday, April 28, 2006

Kitchen Utensils as Heirlooms

After the week at work I've had, I'm looking forward to a weekend filled with baking and puttering around our house . On my list of baked goodies to make, something for MBH made from one of the sourdough starters I keep in our refrigerator. Before I can use them to bake though, I needed to feed them tonight to get them all bubbly and active.

As I measured out the flour for the first starter's feeding, I began to think about how at that moment it felt like there were three generations of women from my family in my kitchen. I was using the flour scoop my grandmother had always used when she baked and the wooden spoon my mother used when I was little when she cooked. There is something almost magical in both of them and I use both these utensils everytime I bake.

The flour scoop is made of tin and has scooped hundreds of pounds of flour over the last fifty years between my grandmother, my mother (who had the scoop until a few years ago when she passed it on to me) and myself. I can see my Grandmother's arthritic hand curved around the handle as she shook a small amount of flour onto her countertop just before rolling out the flakiest pie crust I have ever had in my life. When she could no longer bake, she gave the scoop to my mother and it took up residence in the flour crock on the counter in our kitchen. She used the scoop to measure flour into cups, dust the bottoms of cake tins and to scrape flour from the counter after kneading bread. I keep the scoop in a tall Rubbermaid flour container. It fits perfectly in the mouth of the container and I can tell from how deep I scoop whether I have almost a half a cup or a full cup of flour by the weight and feel of the scoop.

The handle of the wooden spoon has a golden patina and is smooth from years of near constant use. The bowl has small knicks and chips. It has grown dark with age and the color of all the different sauces, cookies, cakes, and other treats it has helped stir through the last thirty years or so combined. My first memory of the wooden spoon is of watching my mother make double-boiler brownies and then letting me lick the spoon clean. I can remember using that wooden spoon to make the dough for cut-out cookies and then washing the spoon to make the frosting. If I concentrate really hard, I can almost catch a whiff of vanilla when I stir batter with the spoon.

I've read articles about how you shouldn't scoop flour with tin scoops and you should replace wooden spoons every two years or as soon as you notice chips and discoloration due to use. But I feel a connection to the two bakers who inspired me most when I use these tools to bake. I also think there is a bit of their magic that rubs off on me everytime I bake. I hope I can someday pass the scoop and the spoon on to my daughter and she can use them to bake her Great-Grandmother's Michigan Cherry Pie and her Grandmother's Double Boiler Brownies. And if I'm lucky, who knows, maybe she can use them to feed her Mother's fourty year old sourdough starter and there will be four generations of women from our family in her kitchen.