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October 04, 2016 0 Comments
Until I began digging around for a recipe for homemade Nutella, the Italian chocolate-hazelnut spread that’s taken America by storm, I had no idea just how interesting its history was.
The story begins in Piedmont in northwestern Italy during the Napoleonic Wars. Sidled up against the Alps, Piedmont is known for its centuries-old love affair with chocolate—and for its chocolate producers’ expertise. (It is said Swiss chocolate makers came to the region’s capital, Turin, to learn their trade.)
This love affair flourished from the late 16th century until 1806, when it was stymied by Napoléon’s “Continental blockade,” which ordered France’s allies to cease trade with the Brits. Napoléon’s intent was to paralyze the British economy; instead, the embargo backfired, causing France and its allies to suffer from a steep reduction in trade. One of the blockade’s ramifications was a sudden and extreme shortage of cocoa. This left the Piedmontese scrambling. As it happens, the world’s most prized hazelnuts grow prolifically in the hills of southern Piedmont. We’re not sure who discovered that, when roasted and ground with chocolate, the nuts would not only help stretch a scarce resource, they would compliment it deliciously.
Fast forward to 1946 when a pastry maker named Pietro Ferrero responded to yet another shortage of cocoa—this time caused by WWII rationing—by creating a spreadable blend of ground hazelnuts, sugar and a bit of that precious chocolate. Ferrero shaped this product, which he called “Giandujot,” into a loaf that could be sliced and served on bread. With time, under the Ferrero Company’s ownership, “Giandujot” became “Supercrema.” Pietro’s son, Michele, tinkered with that recipe and in 1964 he released a spreadable chocolate he called “Nutella.” Today, the Ferrero family still owns the company (almost an astounding feat these days when Nestlé owns nearly everything else).
Why make homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread? First of all, it’s fun. Second, the results are delicious. And then there’s a third reason: have you ever looked at the ingredients in a jar of Nutella? They’re not bad. I mean, it’s not as if we’re eating this stuff in quantity, but the first ingredient isn’t hazelnuts or even chocolate. It’s palm oil. The next is sugar. And then, the Nutella we buy in the States is made in Mexico. But I digress…
Most of the homemade Nutella recipes I found use hazelnut oil rather than the nuts themselves. I wanted to find the closest approximation of the traditional Piedmontese concoction, so I looked to one of my favorite cookbook authors and bloggers, David Lebovitz. David’s written seven cookbooks, five of them focused on dessert, one of them called The Great Book of Chocolate. For that reason, he’s my go-to when I’m looking for dessert recipes, especially desserts made with chocolate. Born in the States, David’s lived in Paris since 1999. He adapted this recipe from the Encyclopédie du chocolat, un ouvrage essential, according to the reviews on Amazon (which means, Google Translate tells me, “an essential book”).
The truth is, I would like this recipe to be a bit more chocolatey. And that can be accomplished easily by adding more bittersweet chocolate, or throwing in a handful of roasted ground cocoa nibs. That said, this opinion didn’t keep me from eating 2/3rds of the contents of one of the jars I made…in less than two days. It’s delicious, especially on a warm slice of good bread.
Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (with thanks to David Leibovitz and Encyclopédie du chocolat)
1/3 cup whole almonds
1 1/3 cup hazelnuts
1 3/4 cup whole milk
7/8 cup powdered whole milk
3 tablespoons mild-flavored honey
pinch of salt
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
5 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (I used high-quality milk chocolate chips)
1 tera scraper
*My food processor broke a few months back. Since then, I’ve been using my Ninja in place of a food processor and the Ninja works just fine. The only possible challenge—getting the chocolate-hazelnut mixture out of the bottom and sides of the vessel—was easily remedied by my Earlywood l flat sauté, which retrieved every last bit.
September 20, 2016 0 Comments
Who doesn’t love a chocolate chip cookie? My kids and I surely do, but from time to time I like to tinker with the classic Toll House recipe in search of a little variety. Sometimes, my experiments work. Other times, not so much. When I read a recipe in The New York Times recently, which calls for using tahini in the dough and sprinkling a bit of flaky salt onto the cookies after they’ve baked, I had to try it. I’m happy to report the results were scrumptious. The tahini—a sesame seed paste with Middle Eastern origins—adds a delicious depth and nuttiness to the cookies while the salt compliments the chocolate chunks deliciously. Give it a try!
1 l flat sauté – such a useful tool for mixing cookie dough
1 tera scraper – great for removing cookies from the pan
1 tasting spoon – great for (can you guess?) tasting the dough!
Place the cookies on the baking sheet. Bake 13 to 16 minutes until just golden brown around the edges. As cookies come out of the oven, sprinkle lightly with salt. Let cool at least 10 minutes on a cooling rack before devouring viciously.
August 24, 2016 0 Comments
I love summertime and all the fresh produce it yields. With so many fruits and veggies at our fingertips, I thought it a good idea to share a few of our seasonal go-to recipes. Let’s begin with sweet corn which finally made its appearance at our local farmer’s market this past week. Picked in the morning, it was sweet, but not too sweet, fresh, tender and delicious by the time it hit our plates. While really good sweet corn doesn’t need much messing with, I like to try new approaches from time to time.
Here’s a recipe that’s a play on traditional Mexican Street Corn, but much lighter, allowing the corn’s flavors to have as much a say as the other ingredients. The recipe calls for grilling the cobs until they’re just charred and then dressing them with a simple, south-of-the-border-inspired compound butter. Mmmmm…summertime!
For the compound butter:
Mince the garlic. Combine it with the butter, lime and chile powder. Allow the mixture to mellow at room temperature for about an hour.
For the corn:
Variations: Try adding lime zest and minced cilantro to your compound butter. If you make the butter ahead, roll into a log shape in parchment paper or plastic wrap and keep it chilled in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to serve the butter, cut it into serving-sized slices for each plate.
*Grilling in the summer not only adds a little je ne sais quoi to the flavor of your food, but when it's hot outside (and in your house)... it keeps the heat outside! If you don’t have a grill, follow these instructions for an easy alternative to grilling corn.
August 09, 2016 0 Comments
We’ve received some great responses to our blog posts lately, including a few suggestions for the cookbooks and food podcasts that you love. We’re taking note and if the list continues to grow, we’ll post it here. If you have any resources you’d like to share with us, and with our readers, please post those in the comments section below. And be sure to include a few words—or more—about just what it is you like about that book or podcast. Don’t be shy…we look forward to hearing from you!
For this post, however, we plan to look at an entirely different genre of food writing— what some call food literature. Under that wide umbrella falls a vast array of titles, from food memoirs to food-oriented travelogues to investigative journalism that explores and exposes the cracks and controversies in our food systems. Because there are so many good titles out there, today we’ll focus on the autobiographical, saving the rest for another day.
- Bert Green, James Beard, Julia Child cooking at MFK Fisher's house in CA in the late 1970s. Copyright The Schlesinger Library, Harvard University
Food memoirs and other epicurean lit are popular these days. Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen is a good example of a book that went big, becoming a Hollywood hit that charmed the critics, including this one at The New York Times. But quality food writing has been around a long time—at least since the early 3rd-century AD when the Greek gourmand and author Athenaeus wrote his fifteen-volume work, The Deipnosophistae, or The Banquet of the Learned, in which the protagonist, Ulpian, is the host of three long, leisurely banquets throughout which food, literature and history are discussed. For this post, we won’t look back to Ancient Greece, but we will look to the early 20th century when modern food lit really got its start. Whether you’re new to the genre or an old hand, we hope this list will guide you to a few new gems.
The Art of Eating, by M.F.K. Fisher
Born in 1908, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher is known not just for being the greatest American food writer, but also one of our greatest writers. She is the author of 27 books and her works on food are always much more than works on food: they’re compelling blends of autobiography, culinary history, fable, and cookbook. It is the five books written from 1937 to 1949 collected in The Art of Eating that are at the heart of her work: Serve It Forth; Consider The Oyster; How To Cook a Wolf (written during the Second World War to inspire cooks daunted by wartime shortages); the memoir called The Gastronomical Me; and An Alphabet for Gourmets.
Fisher wrote often and lovingly about her many kitchens and cooking tools—from Dijon, where she developed her love for French food, to her kitchen in northern California, in which she spent her last days. She appreciated beauty and efficiency, so we like to imagine that, were she with us today, she would appreciate Earlywood’s designs, perhaps especially our medium classic ladle, which is so timeless it could just as easily fit in a rustic kitchen in France as it does in our kitchens here in Montana.
Born just nine years after Fisher, but an ocean away, in England, Patience Gray had much in common with her American contemporary, not the least of which was good writing. Both wrote about cooking during those years around World War II, when much of the U.S. and Europe were reeling from years of rationing; both lived, for at least a little while, with a view of the Mediterranean, where they cooked in simple, unpretentious kitchens; both were single mothers in the 1930s and ‘40s, when that was rare and, by many, looked down upon; and both had the grit and determination to keep the household flame lit, no matter the circumstances. Gray’s Honey from a Weed describes her years with her partner, the sculptor Norman Mommens, living near a series of marble quarries in remote regions of Italy, Spain and Greece—places where her neighbors foraged, hunted, gardened and cooked everything from scratch.
- Gray and Mommens
Part autobiography, part celebration of seasonal and local foods, Honey from a Weed is also a cookbook with recipes for the regional dishes Gray cooked in those very rustic places in her very primitive kitchens—in some cases without electricity or running water. When I was living on the southern Peloponnese Peninsula in rural Greece, I often looked to Gray for inspiration…and found it.
I can imagine Gray and Mommens enjoying a little handmade cheese from the shepherd down the road using our wooden cheese spreaders to serve it.
Tender at the Bone (and other memoirs), by Ruth Reichl
Fast forward to California’s food scene in the ‘80s and New York’s in the ‘90s and you’ll find Ruth Reichl. A former food editor for the L.A. Times and restaurant critic for The New York Times, she was the editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine for ten years until its abrupt closure in 2009. She’s written at least two cookbooks and, most recently, a novel, but the books I love best are her memoirs, which are candid and funny (and include recipes at the end of each chapter): Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, and For You Mom.
Ruth Reichl, what Earlywood product would you covet most? During her early years as a writer, she “couldn’t afford a rolling pin,” according to this interview from the Wall Street Journal, so she used an old wine bottle instead. Given her no-nonsense practicality, we think Reichl might enjoy our trifecta, which is what Brad calls the “perfect storm” of Earlywood utensils: our flat sauté, our tera scraper and our do-everything large spreader.
The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand, by Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison, who for many years spent his summers outside of Livingston, Montana, died at his writing desk at his winter home near the lovely Sonoita Creek in Patagonia, Arizona, this spring. The author of great works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, Harrison spent much of his life cooking and enjoying food and writing about it all. Much of his food writing appeared in Esquire and Men’s Journal and is collected in The Raw and the Cooked, one of the most-read books on my own bookshelf. About the book, the Santa Fe New Mexican exclaimed, “To read this is to come away convinced that Harrison is a flat-out genius—one who devours life with intensity, living it roughly and full-scale, then distills his experiences into passionate, opinionated prose. Food, in this context, is more than food: It is a metaphor for life.”
I would like to think that the man who held the view that “many of our failures in politics, art and domestic life come from our failure to eat vividly,” would have enjoyed our tasting spoon set, for he clearly took pleasure in tasting everything life had to offer him.
And here are a few other titles we love (and others we’ve read about and want to read), but don’t have room to carry on about:
My Life in France, by Julia Child
Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey
The Sweet Life in Paris, by David Lebovitz
A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
Blood, Bones, and Butter, by Gabrielle Hamilton
Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as a Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, by Bill Buford
July 25, 2016 0 Comments
Between the Bernharts’ household and mine, we own a lot of cookbooks. Both families love to cook, but I also often write about food, so I have a few quirky, specialized titles in my collection.
- A few cookbooks
- A few more cookbooks
- Must we say it again?
- Seriously though!
Take The Fabrication of Farmstead Goat Cheese, for example, or, better yet, The Apicus, a 4th-century collection of Roman recipes—fermented fish paste, anyone? Two weeks ago, our blog focused on The Food Podcasts We Love. This week, we thought we’d list a few of the cookbooks we turn to time and time again:
by Alice Waters
Chef, restaurateur, author and activist, Alice Waters, has (according to the New York Times) “single-handedly chang[ed] the American palate.” Waters would like to see us all cook more simply and healthfully, using as many seasonal and regional ingredients as possible. In her umpteenth cookbook, The Art of Simple Food, she discusses this a bit. Mostly, though, she focuses on teaching core culinary principles, from stocking your kitchen to keeping your knives sharp and using them properly. And she offers more than 200 recipes for the simple, sustainable dishes she’s known for. Encyclopedic and inspirational, The Art of Simple Food is a great primer for the beginner cook and an excellent refresher course for the seasoned gourmand.
Because Waters’ recipes call for so much fresh produce, we’re pretty sure she’d appreciate our large wooden bowls for gathering it all.
by Hank Shaw
First a disclaimer: The author of this book is a friend of mine, but I loved Hunt, Gather, Cook long before I met Hank Shaw—the man behind Hunter, Angler, Gardener Cook, a blog that’s about Shaw doing those very things. Whether you’d like to learn how to pluck a duck or render its fat, forage for mushrooms or dig for clams, Hank’s books, and his blog, are hands-on guides to living off the land and then cooking up the bounty from your endeavors. His recipes and how-to information are not only practical, they’re persuasive, making a life such as Hank’s compelling, even if it involves killing an animal in order to eat it, “the primary pursuit of humans,” he writes, “for more than a million years.” Hank’s personal and historical insights make this particular book (his first of three) that much more fascinating. In a section on foraging for Manzanita berries, for example, Hank writes, “the first European settlers of California made a sort of cider from the berries of the Manzanita bush. You'll find these bushes growing in great profusion in the Sierra Nevada of California”—an interesting tidbit that becomes relevant when he gives us that cider recipe.
by Jamie Oliver
Okay, we all know the Naked Chef isn’t Italian, but he’s traveled the country countless times foraging, tasting, cooking and learning from grandmothers, winemakers, Napoletani pizzaiolis, and others. As a result of this research (Wait! Can we call this research? It sounds too fun!), Jamie’s Italy is a treasure trove of delicious, truly authentic (trust me) Italian recipes. No matter what region’s cuisine Jamie’s exploring, one of his goals is to make cooking fun and accessible. To that end, whether it’s a recipe for wild boar or schiacciata di manzo con aglio, rosmarino, e funghi (flash roast beef with garlic, rosemary and mushrooms), the instructions in this book are clear, down-to-earth and approachable. To boot (pun intended), Jamie’s Italy is beautiful with its gorgeous matte-finish pages and lush photographs. While perhaps a few too many of the photos are of Jamie posing with this Italian cooking icon or that village nonna, the man’s love for Italian cookery—and for the people of Italy—shines through, making this a great read and a mouthwatering guide to the country’s foods and culinary traditions.
For this cookbook, we’re pretty sure one must own a pair of l flat sautes for tossing the many delicious salads detailed here and a long server for scooping up generous portions of Jamie’s delicious Zuppa di baccala (salt cod soup).
July 12, 2016 0 Comments
When Brad is working at the Earlywood studio, he’s often listening to podcasts. When I’m cooking or cleaning up after cooking, I tend to do the same thing. We thought we’d give you a taste of some of our favorites from time to time, beginning with our favorite food podcasts.
But first, for those of you who may not be familiar with the term, just what is a podcast? Podcasts are, simply, episodes of a program available on the Internet. They’re usually original audio or video recordings, but they can also be excerpts or entire broadcasts from a radio program, a performance, a lecture or another event. Podcasts can be subscribed to for free and downloaded onto a device—a computer, cell phone or iPod—for offline listening. For a complete definition, check out this page at Wikipedia.
“The idea is to eat well and not die from it—for the simple reason that that would be the end of your eating.” That’s a quote from the late, great author Jim Harrison. I’ve wanted to share it for ages. This seemed as good an opportunity as any. We doubt Jim listened to podcasts, but if he did, we think he would have listened to these:
If you’ve never listened to Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s cooking show, broadcast by American Public Media, you’re in for a treat. First of all, she’s not only a walking, talking encyclopedia of food knowledge and recipes, she’s warm and delightful—an acclaimed food writer and celebrity chef, if you will, but never a food snob. Kasper interviews farmers, writers, chefs and others to lead people on a “journey of the senses” (her words) and celebrate all things culinary—from the culture of food to the science of it, the recipes to the histories. A lush listen, to be sure.
From Heritage Radio Network, this podcast features interviews of the individuals who “defied convention and shaped our food landscape.” Think Michael Pollan (of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Cooked fame), Frances Moore Lappé (author of Diet for a Small Planet—published in 1971, it was among the first books to link world hunger to our own food choices) and Alice Waters (the founder and owner of the San Francisco eatery, Chez Panisse, who built a career on the notion that cooking should be based on ingredients that are produced seasonally and locally—and in the process helped start a movement). This podcast may not make you hungry, but it will make you think.
When it comes to understanding the science behind cooking, we turn to America’s Test Kitchen—a real, 2,500 square-foot kitchen where the staff will test a recipe “30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times” until they get it just right. The kind of obsessive we like, ATK is the podcasts for food geeks.
Hosts Andrew Zimmern (from The Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods") and Molly Mogren (world traveler and self-described “food fanatic”) have been on hiatus for some time now, but digging into the archives of this show is worth it, if you can get over the cheeky name. Whether the duo is discussing the food of Kazakhstan or interviewing a James Beard award-winning cookbook author, they’re funny, informative and, like the podcast’s name, not just a bit irreverent.
Another Heritage Radio gem, Eat Your Words is a great guide to the contemporary literature of food, featuring interviews with authors of cookbooks, food memoirs, travelogues and food industry exposés.
Host Linda Pelaccio is a culinary historian who conducts fascinating interviews of scholars, writers and others to discuss food culture and history in detail and in-depth. Does it fascinate you, too, to think about the connections between modern-day cheese and Homer’s Polyphemus? Then, this one’s for you (nerd—I can say that because I’m one, too).
Modernist cuisine is explored in-depth on this podcast and the results are great. From sous-vide to avoiding getting food poisoning from supermarket sushi, rutabagas versus turnips (“the eternal struggle”) to the gender of pots and pans (pots are female, pans are male??). An interesting, sometimes hilarious listen.
June 27, 2016 0 Comments
What do the Bozeman Sweet Pea Festival and Coeur d'Alene’s Art in the Park have in common? Lots of great artists and craftspeople, including Earlywood! Whether represented by the man himself (our company’s founder, Brad Bernhart), his wonderful wife, Charlotte, our coordinator of everything, Annie, or any combination of the three, Earlywood will be talking shop and selling our wares at 13 different craft fairs between now and Christmas 2016. We’ll kick off the season next week at Butte’s fantastic Montana Folk Festival and wrap things up in December at Missoula’s ultra popular Winter MADE Fair. What better chance to see and touch Earlywood’s beautiful handmade kitchen tools and ask questions of the maker himself than at these events? We hope to see you there!
If you're going to be in the area over any of these weekends, please stop by and let us know that you are on the e-mail list! We would love to talk to you.
We will have everything you see on our website and a few "show only" items.
Here is where we will be:
July 8-10, Montana Folk Festival. Butte, Montana
- Great music, great people, great location, and a great time!
July 9-10, SummerFair. Billings, Montana
- Our favorite Billings Fair.
July 15-17, Art in the Park. Anaconda, Montana
- It will be our first time at this one. I hear that going to this show is worth it just because you can stop by and get a Barclay II steak!
August 5-7, Art on the Green. Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
- A beautiful show right on the lake with some very talented artists!
August 5-7, Sweet Pea Festival. Bozeman, Montana
- The 39th year of this iconic Bozeman, MT show.
August 12-14, Art Fair Jackson Hole. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
- This one is new to us too and we don't know much about it. Brad used to live in Jackson... but he was 20 and skiing 6 days a week. If you can believe it... he wasn't keeping up on the craft fair scene! Maybe this one will coincide with your Yellowstone Park vacation!
September 7, Labor Day Arts Fair. Red Lodge, Montana
- Come see us in our home town!
September 10, Oktoberfest. Red Lodge, Montana
- Drink locally brewed Red Lodge Ales Oktoberfest beers, participate in some fun games, and buy some Earlywood. It's really hard to argue with that schedule!
November 4-6, Marketplace Magic. Billings, Montana
- Classic fall Billings show. We always cringe a little bit when I hear Christmas music for the first time at this show, but you have to shop for Christmas at some time!
November 12-13 Billings Holiday Food & Gift Festival. Billings, Montana
- Bring the kids down and take a pic with Santa and polish off your shopping early.
November 18-20, Denver Holiday Food & Gift Festival. Denver, Colorado
- Really looking forward to this new-to-us fair in Denver. If you're in the Denver area, please stop by!
December 2-3, New Life Ladies’ Craft Fair. Gillette, Wyoming
- Last year, we were so slammed in December that we ran out of inventory and had to cancel going to this show. Not to worry. We are going way bigger with production this year and will definitely make it!
December 11, WinterMADE. Missoula, Montana
- The first craft fair we ever did and our favorite by far. We love Missoula and I guess Missoula loves us! Come early to get some crowd-free browsing in!
December 12, 2016- July 2017... breathe
See you there!
May 03, 2016 0 Comments
“Heirloom Quality” and Earlywood
(Or, as Brad says, “That road to a more sustainable, less disposable world”)
The word “heirloom” once alluded to objects of quality imbued with family history and passed down through generations: the handcrafted bamboo fly rod Uncle Henry used to catch his first trout; the little oak wedding bed you can’t quite imagine both of your grandparents fitting into; the sepia-toned, walnut-framed photograph of Great-Aunt Helga, looking as grumpy at age three as she did at 93.
Nowadays, the objects we possess tend to be less “heirloom quality” and more “upgradeable”—and disposable—than they were during Great-Aunt Helga’s childhood. That furniture from Ikea? It looks good right now, but it is probably not going to be passed on to the grandkids. The fishing pole I gave my son (made with aluminum, in China) bent and then broke the season after I bought it.
There are exceptions, of course, but when it comes to manufacturing these days, it seems quality takes a backseat to price, convenience and mass production. And then there’s that bewildering concept called “planned obsolescence”—defined by The Economist magazine as “a business strategy in which the obsolescence (the process of becoming obsolete—that is, unfashionable or no longer usable) of a product is planned and built into it from its conception. This is done so that in the future the consumer feels a need to purchase new products and services that the manufacturer brings out as replacements for the old ones.” Think cell phones: if we don’t own the newest, thinnest, most feature-packed model, it’s time to get an upgrade, or so the world says.
As a result of these wild and wacky economic forces, long-lasting, handcrafted goods are harder and harder to come by. And in the process, the word “heirloom” is slowly disappearing from our vocabulary.
That’s where people like Brad come in.
Brad’s hope, he says, is to craft products that his grandchildren will pass on to their grandchildren. And by creating objects that are not only beautiful and useful, but are also durable, Brad helps us recall—and recreate in our own homes—a time when most of our possessions had meaning and purpose…when less of what we owned was disposable. When less of what we owned was “obsolete.”
With all of this in mind, I decided to ask Brad what “heirloom” means to him. This is what he had to say:
“If you’re not already, picture yourself as the maker or manufacturer of some product. For this product, you can choose anything…a chair, a picture frame, a blender, pen, a dog leash, even a wooden spoon. OK… really pick something. Now, for that product, if the manufacturing process was entirely up to you, you could make the product a number of ways:
The choice to make heirloom-quality products is about pride in what I do. It’s about confidence in how long the products will last. And it’s about taking that road to a more sustainable, less disposable world and hoping that the importance of the intentional ‘things’—or heirlooms—in our lives will rub off on those who use them.”
--By AA and BB
April 12, 2016 0 Comments
We think a lot about the products we craft. We also think about the origins of the wood we use to create them. We wonder about the forests around the world that supply us with that wood, the mills where those trees are cut and dried, and the people who do the work, from start to finish.
- A millworker walks a stack of logs in Quintana Roo, Mexico. By Mark Stephens.
With the exception of our hard maple, which grows here in the United States, we use tropical hardwoods to make our utensils. Why? Because, true to their name, tropical hardwoods are just that... hard woods. This means they’re durable, and strong—the best woods we could possibly choose to craft tools and cutting boards that will last a lifetime, or longer. We source our tropical hardwoods from a lumber mill called World Timber Corp in North Carolina. The mill’s owner, Joe Steinbach, and his partner, Matt Westmoreland, have high standards. For about six weeks of each year, they travel the world, visiting the sawmills that provide them with lumber and working with the millworkers to cut it to their specifications. Once that lumber makes it to North Carolina, it’s kiln-dried. Brad’s orders—of bloodwood, jatoba and Mexican ebony, mostly—arrive by semi-truck to the Earlywood studio north of Red Lodge. The studio has no loading dock, so Brad uses an engineer’s ingenuity combined with the help of a tree, some chain, a tow strap, and some crossed fingers to unload the freight. (The last delivery weighed about 7,000 pounds, to give you an idea of the task at hand.) Brad then spends the larger part of a day stacking it in the studio. After a good night’s sleep, he begins, once again, to turn those pieces of roughsawn hardwood into beautiful kitchen tools for the rest of us to use and enjoy.
- Some of our products, made from Mexican Ebony
But where does that wood come from, really? Before it’s loaded onto the delivery truck in North Carolina? Where does it grow? How is it harvested and who, for that matter, harvests it?
- This guy harvests it! Mill boss, Quintana Roo. By Mark Stephens.
Let’s take a look at Mexican ebony, which we use to make many of our products. Also known as Katalox (pronounced “cat-ah-losh”) and Mexican royal ebony (although it isn’t a true ebony), its scientific name is Swartzia cubensis. Not only is Mexican ebony related to the chickpea, it’s known for being an outstanding “tonewood,” which means it has good tonal properties. Between this and the decline of ebonies traditionally used in the production of stringed instruments, Mexican ebony is becoming a wood of choice for luthiers worldwide. At 3660 on the Janka hardness scale (compared to 480 for our neighborhood pine, the lodgepole, for example), Mexican ebony is strong and tough. This means it’s essentially waterproof and about unbreakable, making it a great choice for kitchen utensils and cutting boards…as well as guitars. Typically dark brown to black with hints of purple and, occasionally, edges of creamy, golden sapwood (the living, outermost part of a tree’s trunk, branch or stem), Mexican ebony is a treat for the eyes. It’s a tropical hardwood. This means, obviously, that it grows in the tropics—in southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, specifically.
- The Quintana Roo region of the Yucatan Penninsula (where Earlywood's Katalox is grown
The particular mill that supplies Katalox to World Timber Corp, then to Earlywood is a great example of sustainable forestry. The local community was given a large parcel of forested land by the Country of Mexico. This land is divided into 20 different sections. Only one of the 20 sections can be harvested each year and then, only certain types of trees that are a certain minimum diameter are harvested from that section. This guarantees work and future work for the local people.
Mark Stephens, operations manager at Woodworkers Source in Scottsdale, Arizona, has an interesting perspective on the cutting and milling of tropical hardwoods, including Mexican ebony. About 10 years ago, Mark visited lumber mills in the jungles of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
- A Mexican Ebony tree, ready for rough sawing
In his blog post, “Sawmills of the Yucatán”, Mark wrote, “Something I've learned about the exotic wood business is that the woodworking community has little clue as to what goes into producing lumber from trees. The work is immense, and often highly unsafe. On top of it, the work takes place outside in extreme humidity and heat. They don't have luxuries like forklifts to lift bundles of wood at a time, either. We're talking about a lot of heavy, tedious, work-by-hand.”
- Safety in the mill Mark visited was not the top priority
Mark’s blog includes an extraordinary selection of photos from his visits to the region’s sawmills and furniture studios. His post also expounds on the notion of selling imported hardwood lumber “as an act of conservation.” It makes for an interesting read, to say the least.
Many thanks to Mark for allowing us to use his photos.
April 03, 2016 0 Comments
Trees surround and support us. They capture carbon, produce oxygen and provide shelter for birds and other wildlife too. They shelter us as well: the floors we walk on, the furniture we sit on, the cabinets that hold our dishes and dry goods, the framing within our homes’ walls, the porches and decks where we enjoy a summer’s afternoon, the instruments that play the music that soothes or stimulates us—objects made from wood are everywhere. The list goes on and on.
- A young Jatoba tree in a park in Brazil
It’s no wonder our forests are dwindling. Here in the US, the demand for wood products is climbing at twice the rate of our nation’s population growth.
Worldwide, around 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year—that’s the equivalent of 48 football fields every minute.
What’s a woodworker to do? To begin with, get a perspective. The greatest cause of deforestation, for example, isn’t the demand for lumber, it’s industrial agriculture. This is particularly true in tropical and subtropical countries where enormous swaths of land are cleared to plant massive mono-crops of soybeans, cotton, maize or palm oil, or to graze cattle. Paper production is another big factor. So is the lumber we use to build our homes and businesses, to craft our furniture and, yes, to make kitchen utensils.
- A small chunk of the Amazon rainforest... in tact.
There’s no way around it. Being human, especially in the developed world, typically means leaving a rather large ecological footprint. But whether your kitchen tools are made of wood or another material, they have an impact, as Brad so eloquently wrote on Earlywood’s “Sustainability Policy”
While we’re not excusing ourselves for our lumber use here at Earlywood, we’re trying to put it into perspective. No matter how simply we live, there are certain tools we need, others we may not exactly need, but nevertheless enjoy…and there’s a certain joy that comes with using a well-made tool, especially when you realize that Brad has devised a way to give back to the planet that has so generously given to him.
- A LOT of tree seedlings being nursed before they head to the Atlantic Rainforest
For about 3 years now, Brad has worked with The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion program to plant 100 trees for every one tree he uses at Earlywood. The best woods for our uses don’t grow here in the US, Brad tells me. They grow in tropical climates. So that’s the region Brad has chosen to target through the Conservancy’s reforestation program, specifically Brazil’s endangered Atlantic and Cerrado forests. One of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, the Atlantic Forest is also one of the most threatened, due mostly to ranching, industrial agriculture and urban expansion. Home to more than 10,000 plant species and over 1,300 vertebrates, the Cerrado Forest is also under threat. With help from people like Brad, The Nature Conservancy is working to promote large-scale restoration in both of these forests.
Recently, Brad decided to up the ante. Rather than donate 100 trees for every one tree used at Earlywood, Brad will donate $1 to the Nature Conservancy’s reforestation program from every order placed! Whether it’s an order for 100 items or just one, Brad will give a dollar to help “plant a billion” trees in Brazil. That’s a lot more trees than he was planting before.
This new program starts TODAY and we will have a page up on our website that tracks our progress. We'll be in touch when that goes live.
- A patch of Amazon rainforest cleared for other uses.
Earlywood is a tiny business compared to many, and one could say the environmental efforts Brad makes are just a drop in the proverbial bucket. But, as wise old Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” I would venture to add that no act of environmental stewardship is wasted, either. So, as you’re serving up this venison stew with your Earlywood long server or using your flat sauté to cook up some of these morels, you might think about those forests in Brazil and give yourself a pat on the back for helping to replant them. For by purchasing from Earlywood, you do just that.
- AA and BB
March 24, 2016 0 Comments
Most of you know that Brad Bernhart is the founder of Earlywood. But how many of you actually know the man who crafts what he hopes are your most indispensable kitchen tools? To shed a little light on Brad—and Earlywood—we thought we’d take some time to talk to him. For insight on the company’s early beginnings to the satisfaction and inspiration that keep Brad making the tools we love, read on!
- The Bernhart Fam-dam
What inspired you to start Earlywood?
Two categories of things inspired me. First, the things I want to do: be creative, work with my hands, start a business, be challenged, be my own boss, have a flexible schedule, spend time with my wife and kids, live in Montana. And, the things I don’t want to do: commute, work a desk job, answer to other people, sit, know exactly what the next 10 years will be like, live away from my family, work hard and make more money for someone else than I make for myself, regret not going for it!
Why kitchen utensils?
I have always loved wooden spoons. Every time I go to a friend’s house, the first thing I do is check out their utensil selection. There can be so much history in them. It’s common to hear, “that was my grandma’s,” or “that was my great-grandma’s!” Kitchen tools become so loved by those who use them daily, and I love thinking that I could be creating family heirlooms. Also, being a mechanical design engineer, I think I have a unique way of looking at utensil designs. That’s why a lot of my designs are so functional, even though they might not look like a “typical” wooden spoon.
- Inside the Earlywood Shop
There’s a story behind the Earlywood name. Can you recap that?
Myself, my wife, and a good friend were tossing names around one day over a few beers in Portland, Oregon. The name “Earlywood” came up and I liked it. After some research, it seemed pretty obvious that it was the one.
What does the word mean?
Earlywood is the light-colored portion of a tree’s annual growth ring. It’s the part of the ring that grows early in the growing season—in the spring and summer—and it’s the part of the tree that’s responsible for delivering water to the rest of the tree. Because it grows quickly, during those wet, sunny months, it usually makes up the bulk of the tree’s mass.
What inspires you?
Clean design, efficiency, heirloom quality, creating, challenges.
- Final shaping of a ladle handle
Among your customers is there a hands-down, all-time-favorite Earlywood tool? If so, which is it?
Definitely. The Trifecta, which is a three-piece combo. The three tools together take care of 90% of the jobs you’ll ever need to do in your kitchen. I just checked yesterday and the Trifecta has 38 reviews on my website and every single one of them is a five-out-of-five star review!
How about you? Do you have a favorite Earlywood tool?
For sure. My favorite is the longest tool in The Trifecta. It’s called the “Large Flat Sauté.” I have 12 of them in my kitchen at all times. At craft fairs, when people see it, they usually ask what it’s for. If they buy one, they inevitably come back the next year and go on and on about how much they love it. And that’s when they buy 10 more for all of their friends!
- Two of my favorite Earlywood tools (L Flat Sautes) in action
What keeps you going?
I love showing up at my shop in the morning with a full day of hard, creative, honest work ahead of me. It's a very fulfilling and satisfying feeling. It may be very 1950's USA of me to think this way, but it makes me feel like I’m really doing something good for myself, my family, my community, my state, and for the country in some small way. I’m sure that feeling will grow when I start employing people and helping them support their families too.
What do you like most about your job?
I love seeing how many people are really loving Earlywood. Creating a product, then taking the chance of making and selling that product to the general public is similar to starting a new relationship. There’s the chance that your new idea or product won't be accepted. That leaves you feeling pretty vulnerable. When it all works out and people reach out to you specifically to tell you that they love your stuff and that they are trying to get all of their friends into it, it feels damn good though!
-Red Lodge, Montana. The home of Earlywood.
You’ve told me you listen to podcasts while you work. Tell us one of your favorites.
There are so many great ones out there and I listen to about 20 of them. If I had to pick one though (that wasn't e-commerce related), then it would be “Reply All” from Gimlet Media. It's two guys who tell great This American Life-like stories that all relate in some way to how the Internet has and does affect us and our lives. It’s nonfiction, seriously entertaining, and highly recommended by me!
“When I grow up, I want to be...” When you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to become? Did you imagine you’d be making kitchen utensils?
I definitely wanted to be a helicopter skiing guide in Canada! Actually...I would still take that job! I was ALL ABOUT skiing as a kid. I even moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for four years after high school so I could ski as much as possible. I never thought I would be making kitchen utensils. If you had come to me when I was 12 years old and told me what the future had in store, I wouldn’t have believed you.
- Our backyard... the Beartooth Pass
What’s your vision for Earlywood’s future?
Excellent question. Earlywood is teetering on the edge of becoming more than a one-person show with a bit of temp help here or there. And this is something that my wife Charlotte and I need to sit down and discuss. It’s so easy to say, “I want it to be bigger,” but I don’t want the business to grow just for the sake of growing. I want Earlywood to be a great compliment to my life. I don’t want it to define my life.
If you could make anything, absolutely anything—and I don’t mean just kitchenware, what would that be?
Something else that is made of wood and small and can easily become a family heirloom...blocks for kids!
- Written by Lexy Adams
February 18, 2016 0 Comments