Friday, March 17, 2017

The mighty spoon’s wooden, Appalachian roots


I've been writing for the Charleston Gazette-Mail as a food columnist for a few months now, but I haven't had the chance to share some of the columns I've been writing! So, here's a look at the first column I wrote:

A spoon was once the symbol of intention to commit.

And I mean more than just committing your face to that piece of blackberry cobbler.

The legend goes: In the 1800s, when there weren’t shops on every corner, men had to craft their gifts by hand, and one common present was a spoon. A man would fashion the spoon out of available lumber, and he’d give his wooden spoon to a lady in hopes of courting her.

I don’t know about you, but a spoon would certainly win me over. And I’m talking present day. That blackberry cobbler (a la mode, please) isn’t going to eat itself.

The spoon, albeit tiny, is the basis of so many experiences, memories and cherished moments. From your first bite of baby food to those plastic spoon prizes you’d dig out of cereal boxes, to the best bowl of pho you’ve ever had. Yes, the spoon is, in fact, quite grand.

Just ask Stan and Sue Jennings of Allegheny Treenware, a working farm in Thornton. The Jennings, who create a variety of wooden utensils made from West Virginia hardwoods, consider themselves “spooners.”

Spooner (n.): A person who crafts spoons.

People all over the world have devoted their lives to this craft. These spooners may mold intricate, decorative spoons from porcelain or create ornate designs in metal, but many of the others gather inspiration from the humble Allegheny Treenware shop, 10 miles east of Grafton.

“We have a very traditional, Appalachian feel to our spoons,” Sue said. “They’re very cut and dry. They’re not artistic. But they work really well for what we do — and you can appreciate that. They hold up well, and you can use them over and over and over again. They are hard workers.”

Allegheny Treenware spoons stay true to their Appalachian roots. After the Civil War, when people began making spoons from pewter or other metal, it was the Appalachians who continued to use wood — partially to carry on the tradition and partially because of the cost.

“The poorest people have always been the Appalachian people, and we’ve used wooden utensils longer after everyone else. And we continue to produce that traditional, Appalachian spoon,” Sue said.

Now those traditional, Appalachian spoons are inspiring others. Sue and Stan have met several other spooners within the state and along the East Coast, people who took up the trade after seeing the success at Allegheny Treenware, with their own added twist or contemporary feel.

“Every successful spoon maker inspires people, and it’s great that we’ve inspired several people to pursue this craft. That’s just what we want,” she said.

See? Spoons change lives, people.

But the biggest change that the simple West Virginia spoon has seen is on the small screen.

Damaris Phillips, of the Food Network show “Southern at Heart with Damaris Phillips,” began using Allegheny Treenware’s 9-inch long-handled measuring spoons on her show a few years ago, and, suddenly, online orders began rolling in for the set.

“I had no idea what was happening, so I started asking one of the customers and found out Damaris Phillips was using the measuring spoons on her show,” Sue said. “She has made our website sales ... just nothing short of amazing.”

Sue said she usually sold about 50 sets of the four measuring spoons per year, and the show sent that number into the hundreds. These four spoons — and the show — changed their business.

All because of a spoon.

The spoon not only plays a role in our daily lives, but it has also changed lives. From the spoon your grandmother uses to stir her tea to the little spoon in West Virginia that made it big on the Food Network, they are the building blocks of so many experiences we hold dear.

Yes, that spoon is mighty.

Now, where did that blackberry cobbler go?

To learn more about Allegheny Treenware, visit alleghenytreenware.com.

Sue Jennings’ Deluxe Blackberry Cobbler


This recipe is one of Sue’s favorites, and she knows the perfect spoons to help you get it just right: the 9-inch long-handled measuring spoons from Allegheny Treenware. While this recipe is delicious with blackberries, she said you can easily substitute blueberries.

Makes 6 servings
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup melted butter
2 drops of almond extract
2 cups sweetened blackberries (or blueberries)
Optional: vanilla ice cream

Sift flour, sugar, salt and baking powder together.
Add milk.
Mix to smooth batter.
spread batter in baking dish.
Pour butter evenly over batter.
Stir almond extract into blackberries (or blueberries).
Spoon berries evenly over batter.
Bake at 250 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until batter rises to top of dish and is brown.
Top with optional vanilla ice cream.