In a previous post I revealed that I had been commissioned to write a piece about cutting boards, blog style, for a popular South African magazine: Food&Home Entertaining. The magazine was on the shelves two days ago, and last night I bought a copy, excitedly paging to my piece while waiting to pay. It is listed first of the feature articles. I have not been published in a magazine before: in fact, I have never submitted any writing for publication, so this was a complete thrill to see my (unaltered!!) words in print on glossy paper with pics of the very cutting boards I wrote about. They chose the heading, which reads: “Moments in time: A collection of chopping boards stores years of memories in my kitchen.” The writing is superimposed against a background of a whole page photograph of one of the chopping boards, which look lovely.
I got out of my car, waving the magazine at my husband. He promptly put a bottle of sparking wine into the freezer drawer, and later toasted to my journey of blog writing which he was part of, from inception, a lover then. This blog is as much a food memoir as the story of our blossoming romance, which makes me smile. I’m smiling too because I have already been commissioned another piece for this same magazine. Watch this space!
“There’s something about the solid thunk of a wooden cutting board being set down on a kitchen counter: how it solemnly announces the start of the ancient ritual of preparing food. I remember the sound of my mother setting down her cutting board on the sink in the modest house we lived in. Soon, I would hear the ratatatatat of a sharp knife, her fingers fast and sure as she cut up onions, then the sound slowed down as she cut up dense raw potatoes, and faster again for dicing carrots. Loud thwacks meant that she was slicing through the tough white husk of sweet pumpkin.
Mom only ever had this one “breadboard”. It rested reliably behind her kitchen sink taps for the nearly 40 years that she had it for. I remember how pale it had become from repeated scrubbing with Goldilocks and solid Sunlight soap, and how hollow in the middle, weathered away from years of daily use.
Newly wed, I did not want a wooden cutting board. Feeling modern, I chose acrylic. It has since been shown that because of its capillary action, wood draws pathogens away from the surface deeper into the wood, where potential harmful microbes die very soon, and that normal washing with a mild detergent gets rid of any remaining nasties, whereas bacteria can stay trapped in the abraded surface of a plastic board.
I didn’t know that then. I simply became disenchanted with my white acrylic board: the cut-marks left had none of the charm of my mom’s old board. It looked dirty, and I certainly did not want to display it. I tried glass next, but hated the sound of steel on it, and my knives did not retain their edge. A fledgling foodie, I bought a good chef’s knife about 22 years ago, and it just seemed fitting then that I should have a wooden cutting board
That first board was square and thick. It was made of dense-grained laminated teak, and expensive. I was newly divorced, and threw myself into cooking, becoming familiar with my own particular rhythm as I chopped and diced and sliced, eyes streaming when chopping onions. I cried real tears onto that board when my two sons eventually left to live with their father. It moved with me, to three other kitchens. Each mark on it reminds me of meals cooked for visiting sons and old lovers. I have it still.
Over years I acquired four more, loving the look and feel of once alive wood. One I cut meat on, another for cheese, a rectangular pine board for bread, and one other simply to look at the dense whorls in the cross-grain of the olive wood it’s made of. Then, two years ago, a new husband brought to our kitchen a couple he had made from teak. One has a dark scorch-mark left by a hot pan with food he shared with another, long ago.
Just the other day I bought one more wooden cutting board. Already old, it is made from a reclaimed oak wine barrel. It hangs rustically from a leather thong on the side of my central kitchen island displayed with my small collection of boards. This new one is pristinely pale, barely used. It will last for the rest of my life. It is my whimsical wish that a granddaughter one day will remember being taught how to cut carrots by me, and feel connected then to stories of a previous generation and of the earth, all held silently in the grain of ancient wood under her fingers in her eventual kitchen.”