In the Early Kitchen…Cooking Utensils

There was quite a variety of the kitchen items made from wood. A pretty good list includes wooden tubs, boxes, buckets, bowls, bread troughs, pans, sieves, sifters, potato mashing “beetles”, meat “beetles”, hickory egg-beaters, spaddles or round short hickory sticks flattened at one end, paste-boards, coffee-sticks, mush-sticks, clothes-sticks, spoons and ladles. Oak was considered a better choice over the cedar wood.

Often times the buckets with lids contained sifted flour and other meals. It was common practice in the South to remove the flour from the barrel, sift it and add it to flour buckets with lids, which evidently helped keep the flour from spoiling as quick from the heat. And if you had suet you wanted to keep “fresh” you could always hide it deep in the flour barrel where it would supposedly keep for quite some time. I wouldn’t know as I haven’t tried that and not sure I would either.

Then too, there were salt-boxes and sugar-boxes, both lidded, that commonly kept these articles. In one book I ran across a remedy for making stale cake seem fresh. If you had a wooden lidded box and you had some stale “sweet cake” you could always put it closely in the box, set it by your fire one hour before tea. Turn it around a couple of times and by all means don’t let it get to close to scorch the box as Jo in little women had the custom of scorching the back of her dresses. And by tea time you should have cake that seems fresh to serve to your unsuspecting guests.

Wooden spoons were considered best for cooking and probably true since after all we still use wooden spoons today. Now the wooden spoons usually would be hung by a nail hole in the handle for keeping up and out of the way. To clean woodenware it was suggested that it be scalded often. In fact if you had some new woodenware item that gave a “disagreeable” taste you could get rid of the taste by scalding the item in hot boiling water and leave there until the water was cold. Next you would dissolve a small amount of pearl-ash or pot-ash in some luke-warm water, adding a small amount of lime to it. Now this solution was used to clean the inside of the wooden item. Repeat if needed, but in the end before you would use it, it would have needed to be scaled in hot water and then rinsed in cold water.

What if the contents in a wooden barrel or tub became fermented or rotten? Today it would probably be tossed out as trash. But as you may well know most of the people of the 19th century did everything in their power to “waste not want not”. So it was suggested to char the inside of the wooden vessel by burning wood shavings in them, then to coat the insides with the crust of charcoal. Now the wooden barrel or tub would not taint its future contents. Well thats what one book suggested anyhow.

In 1837 it was noted that wooden vessels were preferred over those that had been lined with lead. And knowing what we know today about lead, it certainly would have been better. But that goes to show they knew something wasn’t right with lead. Matter of fact a lot cookbooks and domestic housekeeping books warn about the dangers of lead.

Since we are speaking of woodenware, I’ll just touch on a kitchen item that doesn’t get too much consideration in early books, which is sifters or sieves. Sifters of yesteryear are much different than the sifters we use today. Around the late 19th and early 20th century a different kind of flour sifter came on the scene which has a handle to turn and allow the flour to run out, pretty much like modern sifters. But for most of the 19th century you would have found a round wooden sifter with a mesh screen made of either metal or horsehair to sift your flour with.