Winter feels like it’s coming to a close in Chicago these days. The sky as I write this is that shade of bright blue that would have seemed miraculous in January, but now seems normal. Evenings are longer, I stopped in my tracks at the sight of snowdrops in someone’s yard the other day, and everyone’s mood is a little brighter. Midway through March, a good place to be.
Towards the end of winter, I always seem to use up the last of my spoon butter and need to make another small pot to last me through the following winter. Spoon butter, sometimes called wood conditioner, is a simple beeswax-and-oil salve meant to lock in moisture on dried-out wooden kitchen implements. After months of stirring up stews and soups, my wooden spoons take on a decidedly dry aspect and need some care to keep them from remaining that way permanently.
Enter homemade spoon butter: a simple and satisfying DIY project that you can whip up in about ten minutes. Here’s how:
-Gather your materials.
You’ll need beeswax (I prefer the pellets, which melt more quickly, but you can generally also find blocks of beeswax unpackaged at your farmers’ market), coconut oil, and a small amount of a liquid oil (I used grapeseed oil here, but walnut oil is particularly good, if pricey). Some recipes recommend mineral oil, which I avoid because it’s made from petroleum (ick).
You’ll also need an old tea towel that you don’t mind getting a little oily, some cotton rags you’re willing to compost, a double boiler for melting the ingredients (it should be one set aside specifically for projects like this, because once you melt beeswax in it the residue will stay fairly stuck; I got mine secondhand so that I don’t mind it getting waxy), and one or more jars for holding the finished product.
If you aren't sure where to buy these ingredients in bulk, there's a little note at the end about where I got mine in reusable glass packaging. Note: a few of those links are affiliate links.
-Combine the ingredients for the butter in your double boiler.
Like most projects, I tend to eyeball this one, going for two parts coconut oil to one part beeswax, and a small splash of the liquid oil I’m using. The beeswax is what makes the salve firm enough to lock in the moisture from the coconut oil, and the liquid oil helps make the salve a little more malleable. A mixture of just coconut oil and beeswax can be too firm to scoop, especially in the winter when the coconut oil hardens.
If you want an exact recipe to follow, try one-third cup beeswax pellets, two-thirds cup coconut oil, and two tablespoons of your liquid oil. (You’ll probably need a jar slightly bigger than mine). You can scale that up or down to make as much or as little as you’d like, but I try to make enough to last me about one year – which equates to about the amount shown in these photographs – so that I can make a fresh batch often enough to ensure the oil stays in good condition.
-Slowly melt the ingredients over low-to-medium heat.
Place the double boiler over a pot of gently simmering water, and stir slowly and intermittently to combine the ingredients. The coconut oil will melt first, and you’ll need to keep stirring until the beeswax is melted, too. I like to stir the mixture with a wooden spoon, which saves me the trouble of onerously scraping the beeswax off my spoon; instead, I just rub it right into the spoon when I’m finished.
Take care not to let the mixture boil; it shouldn’t be able to in a double boiler, but it bears saying anyway. You want it all to melt slowly together until it’s a uniform bright, clear gold with no visible beeswax particles.
-Pour the melted mixture into your jar.
You’ll need to work carefully and quickly once you remove the double boiler from the pan of water underneath, since beeswax starts to harden as soon as it cools in the slightest. Turn off the stove, and use hot pads or over mitts to pick up just the top part of the double boiler, leaving the water bath where it is. Use a tea towel to wipe any condensed water off the bottom of the double boiler; you don’t want it to drip into your mixture when you pour it. Then, tip the double boiler over your jar or container to decant the mixture.
Let the jar cool completely; it will turn from clear to opaque over the course of several hours.
-Once cool, rub it into your wooden spoons, cutting boards, and more.
I use my hands to coat each piece with a thin layer of the spoon butter, then I lay each piece out on a ratty old tea towel for a few hours or overnight. After some time has passed, I use a very small cotton rag cut from an old t-shirt to buff the butter deeper into the grain and to smooth off the extra butter so the pieces no longer feel sticky or tacky. I compost the rag when I’m finished with it, since it’s oily enough that I don’t want to wash it. Repeat this process as often as you remember, especially during the winter when you notice your cutting boards or spoons look dry.
As for where to find the beeswax, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil in bulk, it varies based on where you live, of course. You can check out the guide to bulk groceries in the U.S. and Canada here to see if these are sold somewhere near you. Or, you can buy them online in sustainable packaging. My friend Brit from Refill Revolution sent me the beeswax, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil shown here, in glass jars that I plan to reuse down the line once they’re empty. Though coconut oil and grapeseed oil can be bought in glass jars at most groceries, I appreciate that the containers Brit uses are ones that are more likely to remain useful in my home. (As a treat for readers, if you’d like, you can use the code LITTERLESS to save 10% off your order at Refill Revolution).