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.
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
The wood might be olive,
or ash, or
juniper (cedar). Zeki
used olive sometimes, but he prefered
cedar because it has a good grain,
and is tough under use. "Rub it
with olive oil, put it in the sun for
awhile, and it'll last forever," he
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