By Tim H. Martin
Heirloom Tool For Rowing Rivers of Roux.
I'm one of those cooks who's difficult to buy gifts for because I already have pretty much every kitchen gadget there is. While surfing Facebook last December, I saw a rustic hand-carved gumbo paddle and immediately knew I had to buy one.
I learned they are hand carved by Scott Harris, a dentist and craftsman from Pike Road, Alabama. Scott is the husband of well-known Game & Garden cookbook author Stacy Harris.
Unfortunately, the paddles had all sold out, so I sent a message to see if Scott could make me one out of cherry wood. Scott agreed, and a week later — Merry Christmas to me!
The paddle was so beautiful, I started to preserve it for kitchen display only. But I learned usage only intensifies the wood’s beauty, and the blade’s edge turned darker with each roux I cooked. I also discovered gumbo isn’t the only thing it worked well for.
Shrimp Creole was the first dish I made using the paddle. I was amazed how easily it glided through butter and flour. The blade is more than 3 inches wide, and took significantly less effort to move roux than the standard wooden spoon I’d used for years.
Chicken & Sausage Gumbo was my next test. The wide swath enabled slower stirring, so the roux cooked more evenly. After adding onions, celery and bell peppers, the 16-inch handle allowed me to use two hands to row the paddle effortlessly through the heavy glob. I also liked keeping my hands farther away from the hot steam. When it came time to scoop the hot roux from a cast iron skillet into the gumbo pot, the paddle acted as a small shovel. That’s when I decided this “new” heirloom spoon was too cool not to write about. It has become my favorite kitchen toy!
After each use, I simply rinse and wipe my paddle clean, dab a little butcher block wax on it and lean it against the backsplash to admire until the next time I have a craving for Cajun food or scrambled eggs or homemade soup or grits or gravy or . . .
Questions for the Paddle Maker
Q: Scott, when did you first learn about gumbo paddles, and what inspired you to create them?
A: Stacy, my wife, asked me to make her a larger cooking spoon. As I started making it, I brought it inside to give her a preview. She exclaimed, “It’s a paddle spoon! I love it!” Stacy asked me to make 15 more, because she knew they’d sell like hotcakes.
Q: Do you use primitive tools to carve your paddles?
A: Yes, I start with a broad axe, then proceed to hand chisels and rasps.
Q: How long does it take to make one, and do any of your seven kids help?
A: It can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours. Some of the kids love the entire process and have taken an interest in the creation of our Heirloom Collection.
Q: What uses does the paddle have other than stirring roux?
A: They have a multitude of uses. They’re perfect for deglazing cast iron, because they won’t scratch the bottom of your well-seasoned pans. I’ve seen Stacy use hers to cook grits, soups—just about anything, really.
Q: I love G&G logo stamp. How did you blaze it on the back of the paddle?
A: We drew up the logo and had a branding iron made.
Q: How should I care for my paddle?
A: Treat it like it’s a high-end knife. Make sure to avoid keeping it in liquid for long periods, and dry it well. When it starts to look dry, oil it with butcher block wax or beeswax and mineral oil.
Q: What types of wood do you use?
A: Each wood is unique. I’ve made spoons from maple, cherry, black walnut, sinker cypress, oak and hickory. Our oldest son, Forrest, made an interesting and beautiful spoon from a possumhaw root — amazing! Most of the woods I choose are old and reclaimed. One of my favorites is sinker cypress, mainly because I purchase the wood from a diver who retrieves cypress from the bottom of the Mobile Delta in south Alabama.
To Order Your Heirloom Gumbo Paddle:
Note: Buy a gumbo paddle ready-made or message Scott Harris to place a custom order. You’ll also find heirloom tasting spoons, hand-hewn platters and personalized Game and Garden cookbooks by Stacy Harris.
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