On a visit last month to a friend who lives near Castelnuovo Di Garfagnana I was presented by him with a hand-carved spoon with my initial carved on it. This item he’d crafted with just a simple knife during a couple of hours chat.
I was flattered by my friend’s folk-gift and said I could not possibly use it to stir my next onion soup. The chestnut spoon, in fact, now lies on my mantelpiece as a token of a long-standing friendship.
I thought nothing more about handmade wooden spoons until I visited Wales last week when I was reminded of the great Welsh tradition of making love-spoons. These intricately carved objects were clearly not used in the kitchen but were made as tokens of affection. The degree of intricacy would give an indication of the proficiency of the suitor in handiwork and, hence, his ability to support a new family.
Furthermore, the spoon would include designs symbolizing aspects of love: a cross for faithfulness, bells for a marriage proposal, a padlock for a life of security, a horseshoe for good luck…
The earliest surviving Welsh love spoons date back to the seventeenth century but the tradition of carving them goes back much further than that. Other northern countries, especially Scandinavia, apparently have the same custom.
Why a spoon? Perhaps it’s because a happy marriage starts as much in the kitchen as it does in the bedroom and also because a spoon helps to blend things together since a successful marriage is as much a blending of two individuals as it is a compromise between them.
These thoughts came to mind when I looked at some Welsh love spoons for sale at the lake Vyrnwy visitor centre.
I don’t know if any modern Welsh youth still indulge in this charming custom. I think less quaint evidence of the suitor’s ability to support a new family may be now asked by today’s lasses but the Welsh love-spoon clearly works a magical mixture for today’s tourist industry and many are, indeed, beautifully crafted and a delight to purchase.