Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Advent of the ladle

It has been just slightly shy of 52 trillion years since ladles first lifted themselves from the primordial soup from which they formed. These marvels of evolution have adapted over the millennia so that today they have come to populate most of the worlds soup kettles and gravy boats and even some the harshest pasta salads. Why has evolution favored the modern day ladle more than its brethren of eons past? For answers we must turn to the science of grave robbing, also known as paleontology, to the uninformed.

Modern grave robbery techniques have come a long way since the dawn of grave robbery, thus with modern tools such as the backhoe and toothbrush we can discern a great deal about a world until now shrouded in mystery - the secret past of the ladle!

A brief history of our limited ladle knowledge

Until recently, scientists believed that the ladle started its existence as a small bowl that eventually grew a dorsal bud which facilitated being grabbed by primates in search of tools. The more tool-like the ladle became, the more useful it was to monkeys. Eventually this resulted in longer and longer ladle handles and rounder “bowls” at their ends.

Although this theory is still taught in some school books, we now know it to be based on misinformation. As “onward and upward” is the motto of people who choose to better themselves, and in light of present bone sifting insights, we must let knowledge reign supreme.

Recent finds in my backyard along with some things people dug up while remodeling their homes, show startling new revelations about ladle evolution. Ladles it seems, did not come from bowls after all. It was in fact the bowl that came from the ladle.

The earliest ladles looked more like bundles of twigs than what we currently think of as a ladle. Besides this, there are many features in the evolution of the ladle that used to be thought of as found “missing links”, among these are spoon holders and pasta sauce lids. We now know these to be dead ends linked only by a diverging course from the ancestors of our modern ladles.

The fossil record helps us to clearly define the path of development of the modern ladle from a soup dweller, to a dormant phase during which it evolved a hole so it could hang from a hook, to its current, amphibious state. Occasionally one may find a ladle without a hole and wonder “What the...?” but this is simply evidence of the marvelous evolutionary heritage of the ladle.

Tracking the ladle

Believe it or not, there was once a time (until 1812) when there was only one known fossilized ladle in all the archives of science. It was misunderstood, handled carelessly, and eventually miscatalogued as a tea infuser. But new evidence once again disrupted all that science knew about ladles when Dr. E. J. Something Or Other discovered a cupboard full of ladles in the pantry of his guest house. Radiocarbon dating was performed on several ladle flakes that were harvested in an inert atmosphere. Sadly the information was corrupted by Mrs. Something Or Other when she mistook the credit to Willard Libby along with the notation of pumpkins on one of the ancient ladle handles as cryptic pumpkin pie instructions. Knowing that even the most stable pumpkin pies had a half-life of only days and not billions or trillions of years, Mrs. Something Or Other set about correcting her husbands recipe. As an added feature the pie was 32% glycerin which allowed for perfect cryogenic preservation.

Although the pie was a great success, the research was all but destroyed. The ladles were put to rest in the Smithsonian and scrapings were no longer allowed due to fears that the ladles were now too weak and had degraded from being taken out of the safety of the cupboard. All that could be done was to take the recipe to impartial experts to see what they said. They said that the recipe didn’t look very stable and that the pie produced would likely be structurally unsound at temperatures approaching 0 degrees Kelvin. On this count they were dead wrong, the pie was lovely, and even at a molecular level its configuration had not been altered by the dismally frigid temperatures. The experts also placed the origin of two of the ladles at 27,453,861,549 to 88,964,342,256 BP or about 27,453,861,605 to 88,964,342,312 B.C.E. At least on this account they were correct! This new information placed the “SOO Spatula” - as it had become known - squarely in the public eye, because it provided a much needed link between the earliest known ladles and these even earlier ladles.

Answering ladle scoffers

What was once mere speculation was now backed by overwhelming evidence. Today the ladle fossil record is indisputable. Even many charts and diagrams have been made. Yet there are still some that argue that the ladle is a product of “probable design”. How do you answer such an uninformed stance? Here are some commonly held ladle myths and responses that kick all ass.

1) Ladles were made by a ladle maker in a factory.

Many people blindly believe that ladles were made in factories that have no identifiable address or shipping routes. They were told this by their parents and their parents learned it from their parents. But has anyone ever actually seen a ladle factory? Have you ever been to a party, or even a cooking convention or housewares expo and met a ladle maker? Of course not! Because they don’t exist, and that is science talking.

2) If early ladles were so advanced why are modern ladles so primitive? Isn’t that devolution?

Again, many believe this but it doesn’t make any sense. The world of ladles was far different in the past and primordial soup was very thick and hearty ( more like a dense stew really) so ladles needed to be more complex in form to accommodate the assignment of bulkier morsels over longer distances to get to what would later become bowls. Try using a modern ladle with a pterosaur dive-bombing you. You can’t do it! So prehistoric ladles looked like bundles of twigs or “faggots” as they are known today.

3) Ladle development has never been observed in a controlled environment so there is no way to be sure what forces were acting on their development.

We don’t need to see every little detail of ladle development to be sure of what acted on them. We have an extensive fossil record that clearly shows ladles to be the oldest of all kitchen utensils. That record shows how ladles adapted over eons to become one of the most respected utensils in the household. Everybody has a ladle, even if you never use it. Ladles have found a way to survive. That’s evolution at work!

4) What about DNA?

It’s a ladle, it has adapted to the point where it no longer needs DNA.

5) Scientists have never been able to successfully produce a ladle.

Just because scientists can’t make a ladle doesn’t mean that they don’t understand the developments that have shaped ladle evolution over the years. Besides, partial ladles have been created in the lab on many occasions, scientists simply haven’t reached a point at which they can assemble an ENTIRE ladle. Seeing that so much progress has been made thus far, there is no reason to doubt that science will be able to create a complete, useable ladle in the next 20-45 years.

6) Aren’t there disagreement between scientists as to how ladles developed?

Debate is a cornerstone of science. Without conflicting ideas we could make no advancement whatsoever. What if everyone agreed to disagree? Or worse, what if they agreed? If everyone agreed, how would we know if we were right? Therefore, if no one is questioning a belief, it must be wrong! If I firmly believed the same thing as everyone else, I’d be trying to figure out why, rather than simply being willing to believe what I already think at face value.

7) There is a lot of talk about ladle evolution, but how did ladles fist come into existence?

The error here is simply being unable to grasp that ladles came into existence over trillions of years in a slow development. The first ladles were both very large and very small. Remember too, that they were not at all ladle shaped (as we think of ladles today) but shaped like faggots. Eventually these ladles fell into disuse and some of these early ladles even formed primitive notches so that they could be hung up when not in use, keeping the primordial kitchen tidy. During this dormant period ladles developed less woody and more metal bodies (when we see ladles with wooden handles, this again is a reminder of their faggotlike history). Today we often see ladles that are entirely made of plastic. There is no denying the evolution of the ladle and they will continue to evolve.

8) If you shook a box full of sticks for a billion years do you really think you would get a ladle?

If you put some soup in the box it is possible. But remember that ladles didn’t develop in boxes, most ladle development occurred after they began to be hung up, the disuse caused them to develop the ability to seem needed as a self preservation mechanism. Also, keep in mind that sticks are not rudimentary ladles, nor are they ladle precursors. Ladles used to RESEMBLE bundles of sticks.

I am confident though that if you hang sticks up for a billion years something neat will happen.

9) What about ladles that have been proven to be dead ends and not “missing links”?

Who cares? Ladles are everywhere. How did they get here? Magic? “Ladle makers”? Sure, there are going to be dead ends, suck it up!

10) The ladle is far too fantastic to have evolved on its own.

There are far simpler things in the world such as metal bars and wire, yet these simpler items are quite similar to spatulas, which are not much different from ladles. And remember, the ladle evolved from something much more complex. So after it became what it was, becoming what it now is, was a cakewalk.

It is important that we all know where basic household items come from because for far too long there have been too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough utensils. Now we have an overwhelming supply of kitchen tools. Were they all made? Hardly. There is too much similarity between them to think anything other than the logical conclusion. They evolved. Besides, the idea of “probable design” assumes the likely existence of a maker. For this to be the case, we would need a ladle maker, a spoon maker, a fork maker, a knife maker, a spatula maker, the list is endless. Is it not the logical, reasonable and responsible course to systematically analyze the similarities between these items so that we can arrange them chronologically and by size and color? Of course it is! Life is short, don’t waste it. Dedicate your life to the pursuit of ladle knowledge.


Kevin said...

Your discussion of ladle history inspired me to dig through my cupboards, pantries and boxes (using small stiff-bristled brushes and a spade, of course. One must take care not to damage any specimens) to see what may have settled among the stratified layers of my local kitchen-related objects and tools.

You will be pleased to know I found some exemplary ladles including several evolutionary oddities with extremely specialized adaptations. Please see the results of my archaeological dig here and please help me understand what I have uncovered. If you'd like to co-author a study for a peer-reviewed publication I will make myself available.

Interestingly, one of the specimens I found is a quite nice and shiny example of what your studies might classify as a "pre-dormant phase" ladle which exhibits a graceful handle without the vestigial hanging-hole. I emphasized this with a closeup photo and the lack of a hanging hole is clear.

Another has quite interesting tentacles which are easily used to remove soft pasta from boiling hot water. Yet another has a finely-honed straining function which allows for the removal of hot ravioli, also from boiling hot water, as well as the rinsing of uncooked rice.


Yet another appears to be a rather plain scoop, with the "bowl" portion significantly flattened out with beveled edges. Presumably this line evolved in a cold climate where ice cream was plentiful.

The last of my specimens has been used as an orange juicer, and I hope you can help identify its lineage. It may be the dead end of a very long evolutionary branch as it is so specialized I can see nowhere else for it to go.

The evolutionary variety just in my own kitchen is remarkable, but I don't have to remind you of what a proud and amazing beast the ladle is. My picture collection includes a group photo wherein I have placed my specimens in what I believe to be an approximate evolutionary age-order. Please forward any thoughts you have and feel free to add comments, labels and tags to my picture collection to assist your analysis and for the benefit of future research.

claura said...

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