I love the heft and beauty of a well-made bowl and, over the years, have brought a fair number of them into my kitchen.
Old or new, it's shape that defines their use: large with high sides and rounded bottom for batters and doughs; medium and deep for hot rice and freshly mashed potatoes; wide and welcoming for pasta, tossed greens and tortilla chips; miniatures for dipping sauces or a nosh of leftover soup at midnight.
As you can imagine, antique stores and craft fairs are my downfall. In the former, I'm encountering pottery that already has performed a lifetime of service in unknown kitchens. Because I'm intrigued with each bowl's functionality, as well as its inherently artistic form, I can relate to friend Jeff Taylor's attraction to antique tools.
In his wonderful book from over a decade ago, "Tools of the Trade," Jeff delivered the essence of a carpenter's most basic aids through a series of essays focusing on each one of his favorites. As he wrote in his introduction: "It takes a while to find the meaning of tools, the aura of them, if you will, the way they seem to be asleep until you learn how they work and how to use them. Suddenly, you have a tool that is yours, and more than yours, because it has a history that precedes your ownership. It may have been handled by giants and wizards of the craft; it may act a little skittish in your hands, but at that moment, you are becoming part of its working life."
When I reach for one of my beloved, well-used, antique bowls, Jeff's words ring true. Its past — although unknowable — forever links me to a line of cooks who grasped its sturdy form and used it to feed grateful spouses and children.
For completely opposite reasons, I'm drawn to the work of present-day potters. We're lucky to have such talented communities of them in the Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon. At any, given art festival the resolve to cap my bowl collection is undermined by these alluring vessels: each one an original piece of art. So much beauty and purpose are brought into being from a humble lump of clay, speaking to me on multiple levels. But ultimately, it boils down to shape, texture, glazing and something far too intrinsic to identify. I just know it's the right bowl for me.
Unlike the mysterious tales that accompany the antique beauties, for these brand-new bowls, my ownership marks a journey just begun. Their inner surfaces never again will be as pristine. But hopefully, their golden patinas will speak to future generations of the love and use they received in that first Corvallis kitchen.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.