wooden spoon

The humble wooden spoon has an honoured place amongst my beloved tried & trues. Plain, modest, and common, yes. Impossible to improve upon, remarkably adaptable, ecological, economical, ergonomic, and quite simply, essential, very much so!


I like to keep a collection of wooden spoons of varying shapes. (Why yes, that’s my handmade pitcher, all glazed and grand.) Some are reserved for tall pots of savoury things, others are strong and sturdy and kept for the physicality of baking. I try to keep the baking spoons from doing the work of the cooking spoons, so that I don’t end with a garlicky cake. I’ve a spoon of my grandmother’s with a lovely curved hook to balance the spoon on the edge of a pot. I’ve very old dark ones, rubbed with olive oil over the years, stained by berries and tomatoes. I’ve a weakness for variety and will buy unusual shapes as I come across them. They never scratch a surface, not smooth steel or enamel, nor do they bend, melt, or release toxins of any kind. Easily washed, easily stored. These are the sorts of ancient tools one keeps for a lifetime, or two. I’ve heard that even the finest chefs will point to the ordinary wooden spoon as the most essential tool in the kitchen. One day I’d like to make one myself.

Autumn sets me to baking, mm, maybe apple-cream-turnovers! Did you see appleturnover’s quarterly yet? Fratelli’s recipe comes with every subscription.


Like so many traditional toys, the yo-yo has been popular across cultures for the last 2500 years. It’s had a great history, with a tremendous burgeoning in popularity in the 1920’s and 1960’s, and still it persists. Like jacks and jump-rope, the yo-yo is not as easy as it looks. My own skills are quite sorry in this regard. Fortunately my smallest child has agreed to show us how it’s done.

So, I think the idea is that the moment it touches down, you lift a little bit to encourage it to wind back up. I’ll keep practicing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do the sleeper, or walk the dog.

traditional wooden yo-yo

wooden candlesticks

Oak and cherry wood, rounded with an axe, smoothed with a drawknife, and turned on a pole lathe.

lathed wooden candlesticks © elisa rathje 2012

These pieces were so much happiness to make. The oak needed some wrestling at first, it is such a hard wood, but I loved working with the possibilities for shaping a bigger piece. I experimented with various chisels to cut under and form simple lines. Elation! Such good work. Our homemade candles will look quite elegant, I should think. I must wait til I reach my father’s woodshop in Canada in June, to make bases for these candlesticks.

I’m awfully sorry to say that I must save up all my stories of boat-building, cheesemaking, plant-dyeing wool and upholstering chairs, for June and the summer beyond it. Now I must give my attention to packing up the old cottage, our beloved English home, and sending it off in a boat for a new life on the west coast of Canada. I’m full of sorrow and joy about this! I’ll be making photographs of my last adventures here, and tweeting, if you’d like to follow my last days in England. Do page through appleturnover’s spring archives and look for me here again in the very first week of June.

hair brush

The hair brush is probably about as ancient a tool as a knife; artifacts show up across every culture. In 1777 William Kent got started manufacturing them, and they haven’t changed a whole lot ever since. I’m partial to a wooden brush with natural bristles, a round one, or a flat one with pneumatic rubber cushioned bristles, like Mason Pearson made in 1885, around the same time as production started on my tried & true hard-rubber comb. As a child I admired an ornate silvery brush and mirror set in the family, the sort that was popular for brides for the last one hundred and fifty years. But it is the long traditions of brushing and styling hair that I’m even more interested in. I’m very pleased to have a guest who shares with me a delight and fascination with practices that ground us and connect us, the wonderful Kim McCabe. I like her perspective and asked her to give me her take on the tried & true hair brush, as someone who works with attachment and parenting.


My great-grandmother used to brush my grandmother’s hair one hundred times every morning.
My grandmother did the same for my mother.
My mother didn’t have time.

Now all too often we associate doing our daughter’s hair in the morning with hurry and stress. Tension arises as hair is tugged, child remonstrates, and mother chastises. We miss the opportunity that it gives mother and daughter to spend special time together. Tugging at tangles is not necessary. If we set aside ten minutes and take the tangles slowly, it can be a time of intimacy. It can be a pleasure for both.

Rather than approaching it with a sense of dread, brushing our daughter’s hair could become a morning ritual where we chat about the day ahead. It can be a ritual that continues long after she could be managing her hair for herself because it has become a precious way of checking in with each other at the start of each day. Sometimes things can be discussed that are not so easily spoken of face to face.

These daily snippets of quality time weave the strong web of the mother-daughter relationship. It is worth it, and it may even transform the morning mood at home.

My sweetheart likes to brush our children’s long hair while they watch a film together on the sofa. Then they come to me to show me their beautiful hair. It’s a sweet ritual, I hadn’t noticed it so much til now as a way to bring them close. I’ve grown my hair quite long and have been trying to persuade them all to plait it for me – and I’ve been practicing different knots and twists on the children’s hair. It’s such a friendly thing to do, I shall be keeping in mind another purpose beyond getting out all those tangles. Thank you Kim.

Kim McCabe works with mothers and their coming-of-age girls and writes the brilliant, perceptive Rites For Girls.


For years I’ve longed to learn to work on a lathe. I grew up working with wood as my parents renovated a house all around us, and pottered about with jigsaws, bandsaws, circular saws at art school, but I’d never had a chance to work on a lathe. This week I went with some of the homeschooling children to the beautiful, handmade, grass-roofed roundhouse on the old farm to help with woodwork, and our fine teacher told me I could join in and handed me a stick of cherry wood! Elation!

bodging © elisa rathje 2012

A week ago on the sodden farm, the children felled an oak and cut it up. They came home thoroughly dirty and very happy. They tell me that the wood must be split and worked in pieces, as the center dries faster than the outer parts, and will crack if a whole log is worked.

bodging © elisa rathje 2012

I’m so impressed with the children, safely handling axes, chopping at an angle in a few places along an edge, then slicing those away. My cherry wood was softer than their oak, but I still had a good wrestle with it to work it into a cylinder.

bodging © elisa rathje 2012

Then a fine antique tool, a draw-knife, or spoke-shave, used for making oak barrels. We secured our wood in a clamp and pulled the blade towards us, shaving the wood til it was a reasonably smooth shape.

bodging © elisa rathje 2012

And then. The part I have been aching for. Working on the pole lathe is a pleasure, like throwing clay on a wheel, like running a treadle sewing machine. Push with your foot, and brace against the guide, holding a chisel against the bound, pinned wood, touching it on the down-step, backing away a touch as the wood comes rolling back toward you on the up-step. Catching that rhythm and watching the wood as you move along it, roughing out an even cylinder, is just so gratifying.

bodging © elisa rathje 2012

I could happily spend hours with a chisel and a lathe.