The spatula, one of the most used utensils in my kitchen, is also one of the most evocative. Whenever I pick up this highly practical piece of kitchen equipment I can’t help but be transported back to my pre-school self and the sense of utter devastation that this simple implement had on my early cake-making days.
Sometimes, whilst my sister was at school, mum would bake a cake and, of course, I would help with the most important job: scraping the bowl clean before it hit the washing up.
Pre-spatula days the bowl was littered with rich pickings, great streaks of cake mix, impossible to pick up with a wooden spoon, easily pilfered with a clean, pudgy finger.
As much as I love a good cake, I will admit that cake mix is, perhaps, one of the best things about the whole cake-making process. So, you can imagine my horror when I realised what an effect this simple kitchen utensil would have on the pleasure of licking the bowl clean.
As a child I had no idea that the evil silicone spatula could be seen as such an invaluable instrument. Now I’m a cook (and a great food consumer) I understand that you don’t want to waste one particle of cooking goodness; the spatula will recover every molecule of pasta sauce from the saucepan, every smear of mayonnaise from the food processor and, of course, every smudge of delicious cake mix.
I have collected several spatulas over the years, large and small, but I’ve recently had to throw out my prize possession – a large red one that came from the hallowed, but now sadly defunct, Dean & DeLuca in New York. The few times I had been to New York I would go out of my way to visit their SoHo branch. Not because I could afford to shop there but because I could simply marvel at the beauty of it all.
At the time, the early – mid ‘90s, I wasn’t aware that we had any kind of supermarket like Dean & DeLuca in the UK. Limp lettuces and pale tomatoes would dominate our vegetable aisles whereas the colourful array of plump fruit and veg in this upmarket deli could have rivalled any French market. Just walking in was a feast for the eyes. It was almost as if you were in an art gallery, the tastefully arranged artisanal produce, the cookware piled high, the cookbooks enticingly organised.
And so, I bought a spatula. It was one of the few things I could afford. But it would remind me, every time I used it, of the possibility of artful food. It made me want to be adventurous with my cooking, seek out those new ideas, just like they did at Dean & DeLuca, and also reminded me to leave a little bit of cake mix in the bottom of the bowl, because life would be too boring without a sneaky fingerful of freshly made cake mix.