Estonian Spoons and Bowls


Fig. 73. Wooden Spoons: 1. Spoon from Muhu, Mäla village, ERM A 290:150; 2. Spoon from Karja, Koikla village. EM 16957.

This is an excerpt from “Woodworking in Estonia” by Ants Viires and translated by Mart Aru.

Until the beginning of the century, spoons and ladles for home use were generally produced by the peasants themselves. The preferred timber was that of birch, hard pieces of birch root and sometimes juniper. To prevent these articles from cracking, they were frequently boiled in hot water (they were also known to have been dried in the bread oven).4 The bowl parts of the Estonian spoons (as well as the Latvian and Finnish ones), are of elongated shape, differing in this respect from the Russian round-bowled spoons.5

Often the spoons were covered with carved designs (Fig. 73). The Russian spoon with the round bowl, often pointed, became known in Estonia in the course of the 19th century mainly through being introduced by men returning from military service from Russia. Only toward the end of the century did the Russian spoon appear in the shops, or they were bought from by hawkers. The following is from Räpina: “Later, about 40 years ago [= ca. 1900] then no longer country spoons were made for eating. The Seto people started to bring and sell wooden spoons. The Seto exchanged spoons against grain and rags. There was a factory in Pihkva (Pskov) that made them. It was better to eat with factory spoons than with spoons made by ourselves. There was thick paint on them and there was no need to wash them so thoroughly and the color stuck well. Country spoons remained only for making of butter and cooking. Old people, who had not been accustomed to eat with the other spoons, ate a long time with self-made spoons.”6  In the first decades of the 20th century metal spoons put a full stop both to country spoons as well as the Russian wooden spoons as tableware. Wooden spoons remained in use only in cooking.

It is worth mentioning that although the Estonian and Russian wooden spoons were quite different, the word “lusikas” (south Estonian “luhits, luits”) is actually an old Russian loanword (Old Russian “льжька,” Russian “лoжка”), as a result of which it has been believed that Russian spoons were spread already quite early as an article of trade among Baltic-Finnic people, and because of it the original old names have been forgotton. One of such old names could be “koost,” which denotes a wooden spoon on the western shore  of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa (Karuse and Varbla). That Russian spoons were actually found in the Baltic counties at an early time is confirmed by a find of typical Russian spoons in Riga, in all likelihood from the 13th to the 15th centuries.8  To a certain extent the previous position is in a certain contradiction with what people have stored in their memories – which, as we have seen, link the appearance of Russian spoons at a rather late date. It is also interesting that the word “lusikas” (spoon) has in its turn spread into the speech of Russians on the other side of Lake Peipsi as “лузик”9  (it may be to distinguish it from the different spoon with a longish bowl which Avinurme home industry people could have sold on their commercial travels in the 19th century on the other side of Lake Peipsi).

The words used for ladle, “kulp” or “kula” (the latter is a west Estonian term used to describe a ladle with the bowl at an angle, used to scoop milk from the urn), are probably of Baltic–Finnicorigin.10  On the other hand the south Estonian term “kopp” originates from the Lower German “koppe.”11  The same word is applied in other parts of Estonia to mean a wooden bowl with a handle. In the Võru dialect and in other eastern parts of the country the wooden bowl with a handle, especially the one for use in the bath, is known as “korets, karits” (Russian “korets”).


Hollowed bowl, Põlva, Kaapa village, ERM A 227:86.

Bowls (Fig. 74) were usually made of softwood – linden, aspen, alder, sometimes also from birch. Usually they were made from a stem cut in two, crosswise, although lengthwise was sometimes preferred. The latter were not as durable and had a tendency to crack. Tools used in the manufacture of homemade bowls were the scooping axe, the chisel and the draw knife. However, in the 19th century most bowls were already being produced by turnery, and the bowl ceased to be a homemade article (see the chapter on Turning). There are only a few such bowls in museum collections, as by far the greater number of bowls have been turned. This shows that in the 19th century making of bowls was mostly the duty of turners, and no longer belonged to the circle of the peasant’s home carpentry.

 e.g. KT 101, 9, Räpina.
5  Such spoons with an oval bowl occur in the Slavonic area in Central Europe (Opole) since the 10th to the 12th centuries.(Hołubowicz, Fig. 122:1 p. 277). Wooden spoons used in the 15th to the 16th century are relatively similar in their shape to Russian spoons of the 19th century. (Рабинович. Из иcтoрии быта, Fig. 10:7. p. 51).
KT 101.9–10 (Joosep Hermann, b. 1866), cf. also EA 15, 116 Avinurme; KV 78, 124 Jõhvi.
Mikkola, p. 45, 66; Kalima, Slaavil, san., p. 120.
Šnore, plate II, 5, 8.
9 Kalima, Ostseefinn. lehnwörter, p. 157.
10 Хакулинен I, p. 103; Ariste, Hiiu, p. 176.
11 Saareste p. 245.

Meghan Bates

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4 Responses to Estonian Spoons and Bowls

  1. Was happy to get this as my first LAP book at Tools for Working Wood in NYC over the holidays. Interesting and fun to read and it looks great too.

  2. jasonandmaryann says:

    I finished reading “Woodworking in Estonia” last week. Excellent work by the author and the publisher. I plan to attempt replicating some of the things presented in the material. Thanks for bringing this book to life in the States.

  3. A collection of ancient Finnish wooden spoons (“Puulusikka” in Finnish) can be seen here: Regards from Finland!

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