Buttering the Spoons

Don’t get me wrong,  I’m not one of those vintage-orientated domestic Goddesses who pop up all over the place – I don’t iron and I can’t bear the noise of the hoover –  but I do like a wooden spoon.

We have a selection of wooden spoons, and a few other wooden utensils: a long fork, several slotted types and a wooden spatula.  Spatula Clark, we call it.  We have spoons ranging from just a few centimetres across to sturdy giants with a straight bit leaving the top of the bowl, which resembles a flick of hair.  Better to get into the corners with.  When I recently emptied my mother’s flat, I added to the collection with her spoons, and her mother’s spoons.

But there is a down side.  I wash the spoons in the dishwasher.  I know I shouldn’t, but I do.  Wood is absorbent and the dishwasher boils the very life out of them.  The spoons have started to suffer.  The are getting dry and the grain is lifting.  One of the slotted spoons has cracked!    So I set out into the world-wide web to find out how to protect them, and still be able to use them safely.

That’s when I found ‘spoon butter’.  It had taken a lot of searching, as I didn’t know what to call it, and there were lots of people making guesses that you could simply oil your utensils in sunflower oil  (you can’t).  I chanced upon this blog  who got it from this blog   and it all made perfect sense.

As I read the post and looked at the pictures, I realised this was familiar.  My grandmother’s spoons had always had that slightly shiny, darkened look,  as had her chopping boards.  And as it happens, I have also inherited these so I took a closer look; yes, slightly shiny and waxy.  Wow.  Spoon butter; who knew?

I called at the hardware store the next day and bought a small beeswax brick, and some food-grade mineral oil, and set to work.   Some experts would rather we used walnut or raw linseed oil (see below) because mineral oil comes from petroleum; it’s the stuff they use in baby oil.  The reason for using raw linseed, walnut or mineral oil, is that they polymerise, or set.  They wont go rancid or sticky, because of this setting.  The beeswax helps make a soft, workable mixture, and smells fantastic, and it sits hardened on the surface a little, so you get that polished look after buffing.  Beeswax alone is a very hard substance, which wont really work; even if you melt it, it wont sink in.  (I think if I make any more I will try to seek out raw linseed oil, and make it with that.)

Anyway.  Firstly, I cleaned the boards with lemon and salt, then hot water and detergent (let them dry); the spoons were clean after being dishwashered.  I followed the recipe above, using a bain-marie to melt the oil and beeswax together, poured the whole lot into a squat glass jar and left it to set.  Later on I buttered the spoons, the fork, the spatula, the drainers, the chopping broads, and anything else I could get my hands on…  It’s a messy job, but the mixture is so smooth and soft, it’s really very nice.  I let it sink in overnight,  then buffed and polished with a tea towel.  Brilliant.  Waterproof, supple, nourished wooden utensils, a joy to work with and easy to clean. I can still wash them in the dishwasher, and they don’t absorb food juice.  If the wax starts to wear off (in the dishwasher…), just do it all over again.  Each layer adds to the protection.

I thoroughly recommend.  After all Grandma knows best.

Further reading, and other methods:

Wood v plastic chopping boards

Excellent article on the chemistry of oil polymerisation, and cast iron pan seasoning

A Craftsman’s view on treating wood with oil 

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