Carving wooden spoons by hand is an old and revered craft in Turkey. In Şirince you could, until recently, see one of the last old masters at work.
Mr Zeki Çelikçi sat cross-legged in a small stand near the entrance to the village, quietly carving sppon after spoon from the fresh, soft juniper (cedar) wood he obtained from Bodrum.
|Master Spooncarver at work|
His hands were sure, his skill refined from decades of this work. His tools were all custom-made, by him.
Holding up a long, crude wooden handle with a short blade at the end, he told me about the tool. “See this? It was a razor. I cut it to the length and shape I wanted. Test the edge.”
I ran my finger gently across the blade. Sharp as a razor!
He showed me a scar on his left hand.
“Once my fingers slipped and I put a blade right through my hand. I was covered in blood. I went to the doctor and he asked “Who did this to you?”
“‘I did it to myself,’ I said.”
At the Ottoman table, the principal dining utensil was the spoon. Forks were not used, and knives were not usually necessary as food was prepared to be easily picked up and eaten with the fingers. Spoons were necessary for soups, stews and other sulu yemekleri (foods-with-liquid).
For the wealthy, spoons were made from precious materials such as tortoise shell, ivory, ebony and mother-of-pearl, but most of the sultan’s subjects dined with wooden spoons carved by hand.
|A shady place to work…|
The wood might be olive, or ash, orjuniper(cedar). Zeki used olive sometimes, but he prefered cedar because it has a good grain, interesting color, and is tough under use. “Rub it with olive oil, put it in the sun for awhile, and it’ll last forever,” he said.
His hand-crafted spoons sold for a few TL each. If you bought several, you could even haggle a bit over the price.
When I visited Şirince in April 2011, Zeki Usta was not in his accustomed place. His tiny shop was closed. I late learned that he had passed away, and that I would no longer find him there, sitting in the shade on a sunny Şirince morning, whittling little works of art from soft, fresh wood.