I recently treated myself to a new rolling pin. I don’t quite know what happened to the old one, and while I had been getting by using the heel of my hand to roll out biscuit dough, it didn’t seem like a practice that should go on that long. So with a minimum of waffling, I acted on my admiration of a classic maple model at Crate and Barrel. A placard nearby contained a startlingly long list of bullet points, extolling the rolling pin’s virtues and pedigree, and I supposed this in part swayed me that this elegant piece of wood with handles was worth $14.95.
Not one of the bullet points mentioned anything about seasoning the thing.
In a past post entitled My Brain on Teflon, I plead ignorance to the technical side of the culinary arts. When I first got married to Chris, I chafed a bit at his superior knowledge of running a kitchen – especially when he and some other Cooking Daddy would get into an animated conversation about the ins and outs of seasoning cast iron skillets. On some level I knew that butcher block and teak or bamboo needed to be oiled, but on another lateral level veering toward the banks of denial, I also concluded that this was something that should be done, but by other people.
One of my favorite jobs in the world was working as a picture editorial assistant, which I did for about five years in connection with seven or so feature films projects. (This was just as shooting on film was about to be phased out and done only with the bigger budget films, with editors making the transition to cutting footage digitally on theAVID.) With that job came a bench and tools to be maintained and a surface that had to be kept clean because if we had the honor and privilege of handling film, we did all we could not muck it up. Surfaces were to be wiped clean and kept dust-free, grime-free. I’ve never been much of a housekeeper nor cared about becoming one, but I took instruction and cues from the editorial assistants who were my role models and for the first time gained an understanding of the importance of taking the caretaking of the film through cleanliness.
It’s not that different in a kitchen. Sometimes when I’m prepping, assembling the chopped vegetables or other components of a dish I’m putting together, I get that same happy workbench feeling. For the pro, the work of editing or cooking might be super-stressful because of intense deadline pressures, but at home in my kitchen if I have my druthers I am puttering without so much stress, but with the aim of putting together something tasty and gratifying. Over time, as a cook, I think I am becoming more seasoned too.
So on to the practical matter of oiling your wooden or bamboo bowls, butcher block surfaces, cutting boards or rolling pins: buy some mineral oil at a hardware store or at Williams Sonoma online. This is the brand in W-S’s catalog for $7.95 and what I bought at the 5&10.
Vegetable oils or other fruit based oils are not a good idea. The oil can go rancid and then your board will smell funky and you will have to throw it away – the opposite of the longevity result you were striving for!
Wood has traditionally been used as a good cutting board surface because the natural wicking property of wood draws bacteria and contaminants down below the surface. Wood has natural antimicrobial properties that help prevent bacteria from living on the surface. Seasoning wood preserves the cutting board and keeps the wood from drying out. If your wood or bamboo boards do get smelly, you can rub the surface with lemon or white vinegar. Then wash with soapy warm water and dry. Never soak wood utensils or boards or put them in the dishwasher, okay? I probably don’t need to say that, but just in case -
Season the cutting board by applying mineral oil to the surface after it has been cleaned and dried. Give the oil time to absorb into the wood, then wipe off the excess with a dry cloth. Store the board on its side in a dry place.
When the board is new, season it once before using it the first time and then after each use the first couple of times in the first week that it’s been put into service. Then go to once monthly for six months, after which you can season it less frequently. Some people will be more rabid about it and do it monthly for the rest of their lives. I understand, really good cutting boards cost a ton. Why not protect them and treat them well to make them last a long time?
The spiffy, new maple rolling pin next to the more seasoned bamboo board.