There were two of each of her wooden items—a large one and a small one. They hung by a thin leather strap from a hook near the large, cast iron, Kalamazoo wood stove in our New Jersey farm kitchen.
Mama used a mix of Yiddish and English terms when she referred to them—there was no pattern. I never remembered Mama buying any of them. Perhaps she had them in the Bronx when we moved to the farm in May of 1937.
They had many alternative uses. I well remember when she was pestered by an annoying horsefly; she whacked it with a wooden spoon. While she often admonished us waving the spoon, it was never ever used for punishment.
Wooden Rolling Pins
Of all of Mama’s wooden “tools”, these were my favorites. As a child, I was constantly amazed how those round balls of dough became a thin round sheet.
Sometimes Mama sprinkled in a little extra water and at other times she add a little extra flour, “So that the dough would not stick to the wooden rolling pin.”
Because we boys had a sweet tooth, we often watched as the dough was rolled out to make the crust for pie dough (Mama used every fruit imaginable for her fruit pies).
Depending on the time of the year, there was Homentashn and my favorite Rugelakh.
Wooden Cutting Boards
When Papa replaced the hand water pump in the kitchen with a real sink that had faucets with hot and cold running water faucets, Mama would “kasher” the meat on the “groysn” (large) cutting board by the side of the porcelain sink.
When we came home from the shoykhet, the first thing we did was to pluck the chickens and singe them to burn off the little hairs (I can still smell that foul odor.) Then they were placed on the cutting board where mom’s powerful wrists soon had the large sharp knife quickly slice off the neck, wings and legs.
There was a quick twist as she severed each limb. Then the other parts of the chicken; necks, wings, breasts, thighs, legs gizzards and livers were spread out on the cutting board and sprinkled liberally with coarse Diamond kosher salt.
By this time, we boys were growing both in height and increased appetites. In addition, Paul, the Polish fellow, was now working for us and had to be fed.
The smaller cutting board was used for cutting fruits and vegetables—mainly during the Fall canning season. However, most of the time, it was used for rolling dough.
Mama never made breads—other than khale, but we had lokshn (noodles) several times a week. It seemed that she had a way with this “Jewish staple.” Sometimes it was thick and wide and at other times it was more like thin spaghetti. It even seemed to vary in taste.
We loved to watch Mama as she made short order out of the rolled out dough while making these evenly sized lokshn strips.
Mama used wooden bowls for chopping with a hakayzn (chopper). The smaller bowl was used to chop a variety of nuts and raisins. Mama used only the dark raisins. She said that yellow ones were not as healthy.
The larger bowl was used for making gehakte leber (chopped liver). In addition to being the container for chopping, Mama used a circular motion with the hakayzn to blend in the ingredients. In went the fried chicken livers, the onions, the hard-boiled eggs, shmalts (chicken fat) and grivn (cracklings).
Mama always was a buttress against Papa wanting to discipline us, except for one lone incident when she actually lost her temper. It was when we used her precious wooden bowls while we played “War.” These make-believe helmets and our pocketknives were the closest we could come to being warriors.
Mama had a hand grinder that was used to grind the meat that was such a common item on Papa’s plate. Mixing and adding in the eggs, crumbs and spices were done in the larger wooden bowl.Many years later when we had grandchildren, we boys chipped in and bought Mama a real, electric food processor. I don’t think she ever used it. At least we never saw her using it.