The Fresh Loaf

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can I use an old bread kneading bowl?

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hullaf's picture
hullaf

can I use an old bread kneading bowl?

I have an old, probably antique, bread bowl -- I presume it was used for kneading because it has that low sleek look. Dimensions are 17x11x4 inches. Most of it is smooth and well used, there are several thin cracks on the bottom and one on the outside. But it has been in a dusty place for years, probably needs some sort of cleaning. Do I dare clean it and use it? What do I clean it with? I don't want to take away any of the patina, it is so pretty. I wish I could use it, not just look at it. Any ideas? Can I chance it?  Anet

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Sorry -- I would not use it for dough. If it has patina and if you find it attractive, why not use it for fruit or find some sort of low glass or metal container to put inside to hold flowers and water? Or wind some variously colored yarn balls and use it for those. I would be afraid that in cleaning it the patina would be destroyed. And I very definitely would not want to use it for food without cleaning!

Haven't had an experience with such a thing, but from the experience I do have with old wood in other types of furniture, etc., I would be doubtful of trying to clean it up enough to use it for food.

if you want to put a finish on it to preserve the wood, try several coats of vegetable oil. Wipe it on and then wipe it off after a few minutes; don't let it sit on the surface too long or it will get tacky. This is how my Dad finished curring boards.

Mary

jowilchek's picture
jowilchek

Vegetable oil will go rancid, I suggest and use this myself on my wood cutting boards, and butcher block island top...food grade mineral oil (look in the vitamin section of pharmacy). It will protect your wood but not go rancid like kitchen cooking oils.

Eli's picture
Eli

Unfortunately you are going to be the one to make a decision. I have my great-great grandmother's dough bowls and I use them. They are about 110 years old or older. They have been in use since the day she received them. I have cleaned these with a soft bristle brush and water. Then I dry it thoroughly inside and out. However, you said your's has cracks (mine does too). Mine has been is use and not stored but I clean them and keep them lightly oiled. I guess you are going to have to decide whether to risk it or not. I don't see where a soft bristled brush and damp rag with water would hurt. If you get it too wet you could cause it to swell and crack more.

Good luck and keep us posted. Audra on here has some too. She might be some help if she reads this post. (she has her grandmother's bowls).

edh's picture
edh

Speaking as one who makes wooden bowls for part of my living; unless you have reason to believe it is a valuable antique (in which case I wouldn't use it at all, as using it will change it's appearence), I'd go ahead and give it a good scrub. You can even use a little mild soap if you think the dust is really into the grain.

The hitch; this will change the appearence! The appearence of the patina is probably at least partly dust, so that will go, but more importantly you will probably raise the grain somewhat by wetting the bowl. After washing, wipe the bowl as dry as you can, then let it sit for at least a couple of days to get truly dry. Once it's completely dry wipe it with mineral oil several times; give it a good soaking (with the oil). I generally tell people to avoid vegetable or nut oils as they can become rancid and sticky over time, and actually hold more dust. For future cleanings you might be able to avoid soaking the bowl in water each time, but if you do, more mineral oil will help keep the cracks from spreading.

I'd say, use it and enjoy!

edh

audra36274's picture
audra36274

and like Eli, I just clean it with soap and water, and a light oiling on occasion. They are a very cool thing to have. Where are you from? Eli and I were talking a while back that we only hear of them here in the south.I don't think a good cleaning will kill it. Look how long it has survived. Try it, I think you will be pleased. Well after all it is no good to you as it is. It was a bowl made to make bread, let it do it's job. Let us know how you make out.
Audra

hullaf's picture
hullaf

I think I'll look into finding out what kind of wood it is, it does seem to be very hard wood. All the above ideas for cleaning sound right. I'll use some cutting board mineral oil (food grade usable) after cleaning. The cracks are minimal and the patina is more on the outside, so perhaps I'll mostly clean on the inside. And I'm the kind of person who likes antiques but tends to use them. The bowl is from the Wisconsin area, my parents had it around for as long as I remember (my Dad died two years ago at age 87.) When I get my camera in gear I'll take a before and after picture. Thanks again.  Anet

hullaf's picture
hullaf

Well, I cleaned (and cleaned) that ole bowl of my Dad's. And I think it must have been sitting around who-knows-where for a very long time. The dust and dirt came out easily enough with a dilute vinegar water wash and a gentle brush. But I didn't want to overdo the washing and affect the patina. And it brought out and enhanced more cracks than I originally saw, and the one bigger crack on the outside seemed to come through to the inside. So . . . I decided not to use it. So sad. I didn't want to increase any cracks with the weight of kneading and the dust/dirt combo made me think twice about the cleanliness. Thus, I did give it a couple rubs with a food grade mineral oil and it looks very nice . . . as a decoration. 

kneading bowl

 

antique bread kneading bowl

antique bread kneading bowl 

I then went on a brief hunt for another bowl; ebay, flea markets, antique shops and either found ones too expensive, too flimsy, too porous (looked like simple pine wood), too cracked and damaged, or just not for kneading bread.

Well, my hubby does some carpentry -- we'll raid our woods and find some good old wood and gradually make one, though that might take years I know. And I'll keep on looking. I might even break down and buy a newly crafted kneading bowl and start making a patina in my bread bowl for my great-great grandchildren?   Anet

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

Couldn't you at least let the dough rise in it, to sort of let it know you still think of it as a bread bowl?  I've got an enormous, free-standing dough box, antique, and I used to let the dough rise in that, even kneaded bread on the top, just to let it know I wouldn't forget its pioneer past.

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

I have an unvarnished wooden bowl that I use at times as a proofing bowl for bulk fermentation for certain bread doughs.

I could say that, when the weather is hot and very humid, the wood has a slight wicking action on the dough and that this seems to be good for the dough during proofing.- ;) - However, the real reason is just because I enjoy getting some use from it. -:) -

I don't see any reason why, if you wish, you couldn't use your wooden bowl for the same purpose. I don't see that the cracks would matter. Unvarnished wood will, over time, absorb the flavors of what it contains, so if you want to use it for bread, then dedicate it to this use.

I've read that if the same wooden bowl is used over and over again for bread dough, it will develop a favorable environment for whatever little microoganisms are best for bread. Don't know if that is true, but, I have two wonderful old wooden rolling pins that have a lovely patina simply from rolling out pastry/cookie/biscuit dough for many years (over time, they absorb minute amounts of the butter or fat from the dough). They hardly have to be dusted with flour anymore.

hullaf's picture
hullaf

Maybe I could use my Dad's old bowl to rise a few doughs. You're right, PaddyL, it needs to continue to develop a history patina, a pioneer past. And subfuscpersona, I didn't think about the bowl wicking during proofing -- I think that might be a definite process. Especially helpful where I live in TN, where it is humid all summer. I did read in a bread book, might be Hamelman, that told a story of an old woman using no yeast but the bowl 'flavor' to keep her rye bread rising.  Thanks ya'll. Anet

twinwoodcarving's picture
twinwoodcarving

You may find that using the bowl may change the patina that you like so well. It's also worth considering that even though antique bowls are beautiful you have no idea where it's been or whats been put in it. Many old bowls have been treated (with stains and varnishes) as pieces of furniture at some stage in their lives with little regard for the possibility of them being used for food in the future. In the interest of full disclosure I must say that I carve wooden bowls like these but if it were me I'd be more likely to buy a new bowl finished with a food safe or even organic food safe finish. If you don't know where it's been the unfortunately it may be best to us it for decoration only.


All the best, Joe.


www.twinwoodcarving.com

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

I don't know where your antiques have been or what has been in them but I can tell you there is nothing better then making bread in them.  I was making bread in my Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook and all that.  My bread has much improved working it by hand.  So weather you can use the antique or get a new one I know you will enjoy making bread more using a dough bowl.


This is my bowl (dough not included) a guy close to where I live made it for me. He makes some beautiful bowls and strong enough to give them a good working out.  Here is a link to his work.   http://www.doughbowlmaker.com/index.html


This is my bowl that I'm very proud to own.  Ignore the money it's gone now.


twinwoodcarving's picture
twinwoodcarving

I guess I'd be slow to use the bowl because you have no real idea where it's been or what's been put in it. There are many great bowl makers out there who will be delighted to make you a bowl if you feel you need a new one. The dough bowl maker was mentioned above, he has some beautiful work and is often sold out. I make smaller (more decorative) dough bowls which may not be as useful for kneading dough. You can see some of mine at www.twinwoodcarving.com. I use tung oil to finish my bowls which is a labor intensive process but produces the most durable natural finish you can get. Goo luck with whatever you decide to do.

Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher

When I first read this correspondence I was wondering why everyone assumed that the bowl was made from wood. Apparently it was, but it wasn't specified in the first post.

My instinct was to say: use it! That's because I assumed it was earthenware - a pancheon. A few hours' soak in soapy water would clean it adequately, after all the bread made in it will be sterilised in the oven.

But it's not earthenware, it's wood. I'd still clean it and use it, why sell it? Surely to use something beautiful gives more pleasure than a financial reward? It would me ...

Cleaning it with a damp cloth, several times, would remove what others have lovingly called the patina, which only means dirt after all and I can't understand why it's valued. But a shallow bowl isn't really suitable for making more than a small amount of dough anyway!

As for oiling the wood, I know that tung oil is used professionally (and by amateurs too) and is claimed to give a food-safe finish but I wouldn't use anything finished in it. Its only 'benefit' is that it hardens - rapidly. All vegetable oils will harden eventually but why do you want it to harden? Might as well use a modern plastic varnish, there are some excellent ones. Or even paint :-) If I wanted to oil wood which was coming into contact with food I'd rather use paraffin oil but I prefer to use unfinished wood. Paraffin never spoils - aka hardens, goes rancid, goes sticky ... And it's food safe - used in pharmaceutical preparations.

There, if anyone reads this I expect a forest of indignant hands in the air!

twinwoodcarving's picture
twinwoodcarving

Hi Mary! Whether the OP should use the bowl or not is a matter of opinion and I respect yours as a different opinion. I do however take issue with some of your statements on tung oil. Let me begin by agreeing with you a little. Most tung oil available at hardware stores are treated with "dryers". These are chemicals designed to make the finish dry much faster but are extremely poisonous and I would not advise anyone to use any wood product treated with these finishes for food use.


However natural, pure, or organic tung oil is squeezed from the nut of a tung tree and is food grade and natural. The great advantage with this oil is not that it dries fast and hardens, it however takes a long time to cure, 4-10 weeks depending on the wood and environment. Its main advantage is that it soaks into the wood and forms a virtually permanent natural barrier against substances that might harm the wood or soak in and turn rancid. "Paraffin" or I believe more commonly called mineral oil, (correct me if I'm wrong) which is a byproduct of petroleum production, is not natural, and needs to be replaced after virtually each use. Never use vegetable oil or olive oil on any wood as it will probably turn rancid over time.


The finish you get from using natural tung oil is very different from what you see with a "modern plastic varnish". Varnish and shellac does not soak into the wood so you end up with a polymer layer between your finger tips and the wood. Also "food grade" varnishes are only food grade after they dry and as long as it is not chipped off into your food. With tung oil it soaks completely into the wood first and then hardens over time meaning that you still have the tactile experience of touching the wood. Tung oil is also not glossy or reflective and has a matt finish giving an aged look to the finished product.


So there you go, my humble opinion as a professional woodworker. Use a raw wood bowl if you like, that's fine, tung oil makes your bowl much more flexible and reduces the risk of compromising the food safe nature of the bowl with organisms or oils that could spoil. However it is not and should not be categorized with the other products as it is far superior to them. All the best, Joe.

Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher

Paraffin, mineral oil, is natural, it's a product formed from living creatures of millions of years. It is NOT sustainable in our lifetimes, as is tung oil, but that doesn't make it non-natural.

It's used in cosmetics and baby oils so can't be considered to be unfriendly to humans. Not that I'd use it on my body because I don't like the feel of it. But nor do I like the feel of any oil on my body.

Over time I believe that even tung oil would, along with other vegetable oils, begin to go rancid.

Why would you want to distress a wooden artefact - to make it look 'aged'?

By the way, the item in question isn't called a bowl in England, it's a 'trough'. A trug is a similar shaped item but made from plant stems and used in the garden.

I foresee more hands in the air :-)

Mary

twinwoodcarving's picture
twinwoodcarving

Tung oil is not a vegetable oil it is a nut oil. Like most other nut oils it will not go rancid. It has been used in China for 4,000 years with no problems. You are correct though that vegetable oils will go rancid over time and should never be used on untreated wood.


Mineral oil is the most commonly used treatment for wooden bowls as it is easy to apply, cheap, food safe, and easy for the end user to refinish.  However it is not a durable finish and needs to be replenished after every use. The OP will have no problems with this product and no-one should hesitate in using this product as long as the understand it's limitations. Tung oil is less available to the general population and takes more time and skill to properly apply. Once applied it is a much more durable finish for food applications. People seeking an organic or natural product this is a better option. A raw wood bowl can also be used as long as the wood is non-toxic.


All these are valid, food-safe options and as to which one one chooses, it is entirely a matter of opinion. As a point of clarification I did not say that the tung oil "distresses" the bowl I said it "vintages" the bowl meaning that it doesn't have a brand new glossy finish, rather it has a flat, or mat finish. This gives it the appearance of being older than it actually is. You can see this finish on my blog www.twinwoodcarving.com . Here in America the most common terms are dough bowl, trencher bowl, farm house bowl, oval bowl, and long bowl. A trough over here usually refers to an animal feeding utensil.

paulm's picture
paulm

The mineral oil we are talking about can be found in the laxative section of any drug store or pharmacy.  In the U.S., it is not labeled "food grade" but rather U.S.P.  According to its label the uses are:


Laxative


Relief of Occasional Constipation


Skin Moisturizer


Paul

yankeedave's picture
yankeedave

Try it and see what happens, what do you have to lose but one batch of dough? I'm no microbiologist but I have a hard time believing it would cause any problems. In the relatively short time it takes bread to rise, I very much doubt that anything left dormant in there could compete with your healthy, active yeast. It's easy to get freaked out about this stuff but I think that a lot of it is needless worry. I say give it a shot.

Mary Fisher's picture
Mary Fisher

I agree 100% with yankeedave!

doughbowlmaker's picture
doughbowlmaker

I'm no expert as I've only made a little over a thousand bowls but my vote would go to "use the bowl". An old bowl will make bread as well as a new one and as long as the dough gets cooked at above 170 degrees all the bacteria that may be hiding out in the old bowl is going to be well done before the bread is. The Post back a ways - concerning the tung oil - "IF" you can get the real thing (actual pure tung oil from the nut) it is totally safe and does offer protection for the bowl. The tung oil you buy in a store (such as Homer Formby's) is a blend of many chemicals and according to Minnwax (who makes it) it should not be used in any situation  where it may come in direct contact with food. I called around trying to find a product that I could coat the most beautiful of the bowls that I make with that would have a shine so as to show the grain and beauty of the wood. In my conversation with the guy at Minnwax he made it clear (and got it on tape to prove  what he told me) that minnwax does not make any product that is safe for direct food contact. The only one that I could find that is - "Behlen's Salad Bowl Finish".


It goes on thin and I don't like it much, but it is the only food safe coating that has any shine at all, and if enough coats are applied you get a very durable shine that is also a good hard finish.


Mineral oil (if bought in "food grade") is totally safe - leaves no residue and evaporates within a few weeks leaving no trace of itself behind. I buy 10 gallons at a time form STE oil in Texas.


 It all comes down to "what you want". I make both plain wood (without a finish) and some gorgeous bowls with a finish to show off the beauty of the wood. And this is not a sales pitch as you will see that if you get on my website I do not currently have any bowls for sale as I can sell 4 for every one that I can actually make, I just wanted to jump in with my 2 cents worth and encourage the lady to use her old bowl. Patina in "nothing" to worry about losing, it's a fancy word that the "art crowd" throw about but means nothing to you unless you are wanting to sell the bowl as an antique, and someone years ago took the time to make that bowl so it was special to someone.


Thanks for letting me have my say, and thanks for all the visits to my website from all you folks. ...jp madren 


 

ldsheridan's picture
ldsheridan

Glad you clarified about the tung oil.  I was getting worried there but didn't really want to start any arguments.  I am a retired antique restorer and period furniture-maker and know a few things about wood finishing.  Using commercial tung oil would be disastrous for this application. I am surprised that you experienced wood working guys didn't recommend burnishing, which is probably the way all wooden bowls were finished for food handling prior to the 19th c. Burnishing compresses the surface fibers, hardening the working surface while also departing a pleasant sheen.  Patina is a whole other different animal and the term is grossly misused in this discussion.  Not really my area of expertise but I would be very wary of introducing any coating to a bowl I would use for kneading.  The wood itself is admirably suited to handle the task unassisted.  Think about old cutting boards and chopping blocks that are used for generations with just a daily cleaning. 

-d

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I enjoy using my grandmother's porcelain bowl every time I make bread. If this is your family bowl I vote to use it.Wonderful memory trigger.

 There is very little that could have been in that bowl that would affect you now-who stores anything in a bowl? Most of anything nasty would have been washed out with time and your recent elbow grease. The crack does not look significant but if you are concerned,use it to raise the dough,as suggested, rather than to knead. Or better yet, mix the dough and then use a gentle stretch and fold rather than firm kneading.

Who says you can't teach an old bowl new tricks?

Lunzie1's picture
Lunzie1

Hi everyone,

My grandparents didn't have tung oil (which I love) or mineral oil, but they did have rendered fat from cows, pigs and sheep. I've been collecting fat from frying organic bacon for the last year and it hasn't spoiled yet, so I'm guessing that my granny used something like  that; they used what they had on hand. I've put a little bit of that rendered fat on the edge of one very old bowl (that I cleaned) to see what would happen, and it provides that beautiful patina and feels just like the other bowl that hasn't been cleaned in donkey's years. What do you all think of this method of preserving wooden bowls?

Susan

 

doughbowlmaker's picture
doughbowlmaker

...I wouldn't want to put anything on it that may leave a greasy feel or oiliness. Dust would cause it to become a gum.

  I've heard of folks using rendered fat "back in the day" and they probably lived to a ripe old age, I think I'd go light with it though, allowing it to absorb in to the wood and not "saok" it. Even mineral oil can "waterlog" a bowl if applied to frequently and to heavily.

  Enjoy the bowl - that's what it is for.

...jp madren

Lunzie1's picture
Lunzie1

Thanks for your reply. I did put a light coat of rendered fat on the bowl and it seems to be doing well. I rubbed it in and removed the excess. It does smell a bit piggy :-) but I think that will lessen. I will keep an eye on the dust issue and report any changes.

Thanks for this wonderful forum!

Susan

doughbowlmaker's picture
doughbowlmaker

..The main thing is - the bowl ain't busted! ... don't worry so much for any "bacteria" formation ... remember - most bread rescipies have the bread cooking from a low o 325 to 400 degrees ... bacteria dies well before 170 degrees!... some well done bacteria might just add a decent crunch to the outside of your bread or maybe that perfect taste. Use that old bowl girl, but do take care not to bust it. ...doughbowlmaker - jp madren

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

Just to let you know the bowl you made me is just as good as day one that I received it from you. I truly love my bowl and I use it often.

Thanks again...Faith

doughbowlmaker's picture
doughbowlmaker

I'm glad that you like it. That's what keeps me making them. Hearing from someone such as you just makes my day !!!