My little collection of Scandinavian carved wooden decorative jugs prompted my research into what they might be classified as. To my astonishment, they fall into a vast category called TREEN, which means literally “made of tree”, from the Old English word treowen. Treen Ware nowadays tends to mean anything made of wood although a small subsidiary amount of other materials, maybe metal or bone, is permissible. Generally the article should be of limited size and not of joined construction – this excludes furniture and large boxes – and should have a functional purpose. So just about any small wooden object which is carved, turned, or shaped by other means, and made of a relatively small number of parts would be classified as Treen Ware. There are serious collectors of Treen who dispute the limitations of this classification but however the boundaries are drawn, the lover of wood and true craftsmanship will not quibble over these details.
Certainly renowned (to Treen enthusiasts) collector Edward Pinto did not keep to rigid confines. His vast collection of over 7,000 items now resides in Birmingham City Museum and contains items which fall outside the boundaries of strict classification. I shall certainly be making a pilgrimage to see this wonderful collection, reputed to be the best in the world, and will not mind at all to see glorious old wooden artifacts of any description.
So having determined that my Scandinavian jugs are Treen Ware, I could not find anything specific on their origin but I suspect they were carved by young men and offered to the girls they loved as tokens of affection much the same as the very old custom of Welsh Lovespoons. Some of the early lovespoons can be seen on display at the Welsh Folk Museum in Cardiff. There is even one that dates back to 1667. (Another pilgrimage!) And for those interested in etymology, is why the word “spoony” means to be foolishly in love and further where we get our phrase “loving spoonful”.
In the world prior to mass produced ceramics, metal and plastics, wood was used for all manner of food and kitchen items such as platters and plates for food – these plates were called trenchers and were usually square. Sailors in the British Navy were tempted to join up with the promise of one hot full meal every day. These were served on square wood trenchers and the daily serving is where we come by our expression of “one square meal a day”. Wooden bowls and masers (drinking vessels), spoons and all other food items may be carved if made for a special purpose but for everyday use would be plain and, after years of use and regular applications of edible oil – say sunflower, result in a wonderful warm, tactile, homely and still useable item which many hands have used and treasured.
And, as an additional incentive to collect and use those old plates, bowls, chopping boards etc, tests comparing the hygienic properties of wooden kitchen items with those supposedly innocuous plastic things show wood winning hands down. There is apparently an enzyme in wood that engages bacteria in mortal combat – and is victorious.
Wood as a means of material for useful objects made by man just about predates anything else and the items made and the uses thereof are so vast that they cannot be listed. But here is a sampling of Treen items.
So search out that old breadboard, dust off the crumbs of disuse and give it a simple oiling and it will reward you with infusing your bread, be it homemade or bought, with natural warmth and well being. And when buying modern items made of wood, look for hand carved or joined items made with craftsman skills for they will serve you well and be the Treen Ware of tomorrow.