Forget bread making: This is the cookbook for surviving quarantine

Yeasted goods were so last month.

Sourdough enthusiasts, there are some new recipe starters in town. But in this case, the talking ingredients are derived from wood.


Chemarts Cookbook Team (clockwise) Tapani Vuorinen, Nina Riutta, Eeva Suorlahti, Pirjo Kääriäinen, and Liisa Tervinen. [Photo: Eeva Suorlahti/courtesy Aalto University]
While you might be most familiar with some of these items–such as cellulose— from your high school biology days, designers Pirjo Kääriäinen, Nina Riutta, Liisa Tervinen, and Eeva Suorlahti (plus one scientist, Tapani Vuorinen) are giving them fresh purpose with the new CHEMARTS Cookbook. And it might just facilitate your newest at-home hobby: making biomaterials.

Of course, “cookbook” is a bit of a misnomer, as the recipes are more like science experiments (you know, what you might have called that loaf of bread that didn’t turn out how you wanted it to). And no guarantees as to whether results like “bio slime” are edible either.

But they are fun. The book runs through the basics of working with wood-based materials; the space, tools, materials, and ingredients you’ll need; and then gets into the recipes themselves. But unlike a traditional cookbook, these recipes don’t focus on taste but on touch: breaking experiments out by physical and material characteristics such as hard, soft, and transparent; and visual traits such as coloring and dying, using long fibers from nature, and papermaking.

Materials from nature. [Photo: Eeva Suorlahti/courtesy Aalto University]
[Photo: Eeva Suorlahti/courtesy Aalto University]
The book has simple and advanced recipes for the homebody hobbyist, and it uses natural wood derivatives and by-products such as cellulose fibers, lignin, bark, wood extracts, and by-products like sawdust. You can mold bowls out of pine bark, make pulp-based foam and form it into plates, make wooden transparencies that look like disks of stained glass, sculpt with willow fiber, and more. Most recipes use natural materials you can find nearby, such as bark, pulp, reeds, and water. (Some of those might be harder to get ahold of if you live in an urban environment.)

No, you can’t eat the results. But unlike bread, they won’t go stale. And chances are they’ll be just as ‘grammable.


About the author

Lilly Smith is an associate editor of Co.Design. She was previously the editor of Design Observer, and a contributing writer to AIGA Eye on Design.