We talk about food memories a lot here at Spoons Across America. In our programs, children taste new and exciting flavors and then relate them back to their own experiences and stories. We hope that the activities they engage in will help them to make new, lasting, healthy food memories. I also think these stories are a great way to break the ice when you are meeting new people – it’s why I start all my training sessions by asking the participants to share a memory they have associated with food. What we don’t often think about is how our memories are also linked to the tools we use every day; whether it’s a favorite coffee mug, serving plate, or baking dish. These tools become mementos of all the meals and flavors we’ve enjoyed with friends and family over the years, and they help tell our stories. Here’s mine.
It’s warped, burnt and misshapen, but it’s still my favorite cooking tool. It’s the one I grab again and again to stir pasta, taste sauces, and saute greens. And it tells my story.
This wooden spoon came into my life 25 years ago. I was a newly-minted college graduate living in my first apartment on Josephine Avenue in Somerville, MA. There were gallons of ice cream in the freezer, thanks to a roommate who worked at a local ice cream parlor; and Korean delicacies in the fridge, from a girl who only came out late at night when she thought everyone was asleep. I contributed peach scones and day-old baguettes from the hippie cafe where I cooked and waitressed. It was a motley group of people and a motley group of flavors. I still remember the first recipe I made with my Spoon. It was a tomato sauce with sauteed onions cooked in the oily juice from a jar of artichoke hearts. I slowly sweated the onions in an old frying pan, stirring them with the then-perfectly rounded, oval head of the Spoon which hadn’t yet seen decades of use in my kitchen. I remember feeling proud of myself— living on my own, lovingly cooking a meal for my new neighborhood friends. This meal, made with this Spoon, was my way of showing my friends that I cared about them and wanted them to eat a delicious meal.
Two years later, when I left the house on Josephine Avenue, my Spoon came with me. I must admit here that I took the Spoon. Technically, until that moment, it wasn’t really my Spoon, per se. But I felt some kind of affinity for the Spoon and believed that neither Amy, who every night ate canned pasta out of the pot followed by a pint of strawberry ice cream, nor Julie, who mysteriously ate her Kimchi in the wee hours of the morning without leaving a trace, would miss it. The Spoon had become a communal tool, and to the best of my knowledge, they were not using it as much as I was. So yes, I took the Spoon.
I moved from that house across a few blocks to a new home. My Spoon came with me to Hancock Street where it mixed packaged soup from Boston Market, doctored up with fresh vegetables and pasta for my best friend, Jeffie, reeling from a family tragedy. It stirred countless bowls of oatmeal when it snowed endlessly, day after day, all winter long. And it folded the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients for the cake I made to celebrate my admission into Bank Street College of Education. I used the Spoon to cook up comfort and celebration, for weekday dinners and once-in-a-while treats. The Spoon followed me through all the highs and lows of my new post-college life.
When I bought my first New York apartment, my Spoon took its rightful place in the blue canister next to the stove where I keep all my favorite kitchen tools handy. It stirred the black sticky rice for my spider themed Halloween party and coconut sauce for the Thai Cornish game hens I made for a New Year’s Eve celebration. When my best friends, who were also teachers and were working as hard as I was, came for Friday night cocktails, we used the handle (now slightly burnt) to mix the cosmos which accompanied stories of blind dates gone wrong and toasts to a well-deserved weekend. The Spoon had relocated a few times and was beginning to show its age, but it was still my favorite tool and a daily participant in my cooking and entertaining.
It was there for some pretty big personal milestones – all accompanied with meals, of course! My Spoon, now slightly less than oval, stirred the lentil pilaf that was part of the first meal I made for my now-husband. Later, as a new mom, it helped to purée the apples I made Ruby for her first taste of a local harvest. And when my sister lost her battle with cancer, it mashed the avocados for the guacamole recipe she taught me, and I ate in her honor. The Spoon had been there for happy and sad occasions alike, always reliable and constant as my life changed around it.
When my family left the city, we tried to rid ourselves of any kind of junk, to make a clean slate in our new home. But don’t worry, my Spoon, now 20 years old, made the cut and moved with us. Relocating to a new home was another step in the long journey this Spoon has made with me since that house on Josephine Avenue. Back in the blue canister next to the stove, it shares its space with fancy gadgets and shiny new spoons, received as wedding presents, finally unpacked in our new home. Despite its curving neck, it still stands proud.
My Spoon stirs the batter for the harvest muffins I put in Ruby’s lunchbox, and, as if passing a torch, Ruby uses it to make that same artichoke tomato sauce I made those many years ago in Somerville.
The handle, worn smooth by so many years of use, fits perfectly into my hand. It seems to know my movements before I do, the way I’ll spin it to keep the garlic from burning, or tilt it to the side as I ensure that all the blueberries are mixed into the batter. It’s been a willing participant and partner in my cooking and with that, a witness to my life.
Do you have a favorite cooking tool? What stories does it tell? Share yours with us!
Click here to find June’s Literature Connections activity!