IN THE cavernous kitchens of the Middle Ages feudal chefs sat in high chairs commanding a view of everything that transpired within their domains. Each held a long wooden spoon which was used to taste the various dishes being prepared.From time to time, the spoon became a rod of punishment for idle or gluttonous underlings. Even today professional cooks, from Julia Child and Marcella Hazan to James Beard and Jacques Pepin, have ceramic crocks in their kitchens filled with long-handled wooden spoons and spatulas.

Wooden spoons and spatulas are part of every good cook's kitchen because they are inexpensive, do not conduct heat, will not scratch a pot's surface and, to a great degree, will not discolor foods or affect flavors. They will absorb some flavors, however. Different woods absorb flavors to different degrees. Soft pine wood utensils are a waste of money. They absorb flavors, splinter easily and have a life expectancy shorter than a Los Angeles marriage. The proper woods for kitchen spoons and spatulas are hard woods. Closely grained and beautifully patterned, olive, box, beech, cherry and maple are appropriate for kitchen utensils.

A well equipped kitchen should have a selection of good wooden spoons and spatulas.

Beechwood Mixing Spoon -- This spoon should be smoothly finished with an oval carved bowl and 14-inch cylindrical handle. The gentle curve of the bowl should hold food nicely and the handle should be thick and sturdy enough to allow use of the spoon as a beater. The retail price -- about $1

Boxwood Chocolate Spoon -- boxwood and cherrywood are very bad conductors of heat and flavor, making them ideal choices for use with chocolate and delicate sauces. The surface of the tool should be varnished to protect it from the highly invasive chocolate. Fine boxwood or cherrywood should not be subjected to high temperature but then, neither should a delicate sauce. Retail price -- about $4.50.

Curved Olivewood Spatula -- Olivewood kitchen tools are not easy to find in the United States and when you do find them they will not be inexpensive. But the close-whirled grain, ultra-smooth surface, hardness, and lack of porosity make olivewood a fine substance for cooking utensils. The best model is 12 inches long with a curved paddle that is 5 inches by 2 1/2 inches. The spatula portion should be gently tapered to a subtle edge for getting under foods, but it should be wide and flat enough to act as a perfect tool for cutting ingredients together, e.g. flour into egg whites. The structure of the utensil must be sufficiently durable to allow it to be used for heavy mixing. This spatula comes in two designs, one with a slight slant for left handed people and one for righties. Make sure you check on this before selecting one. They generally retail for about $4.50.

Boxwood Spartula Set -- The best of class spatulas. They look like giant rain drops, flat but characteristically spoon shaped. The smooth, tightly grained wood is highly resistant to cooking fats, and liquids. These spatulas are perfectly balanced with most of the weight centered in the paddle area. The size range includes 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 inch models. Each spatula has a hole in the handle for hanging. Prices range from $4.50 to $9.50.

Having acquired wooden spoons and spatulas of good quality and construction avoid blunders that might destroy them. Do not leave wooden utensils in a pot or pan after you have used the utensil to stir the foods that are cooking. Do not leave them near a heat source. Do not leave them in bowls or sinks filled with water. Do not put them in a dishwasher. After use merely wash them off with warm water and hand dry them with some toweling. With proper care, good quality boxwood, beechwood, olivewood and cherrywood spoons will last 20 to 30 years.