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My kids like to help in the kitchen, but by age 3 or 4 my older child was getting increasingly frustrated by being limited to dumping in ingredients and stirring things up – he wanted to get in on the knife action, and let’s face it, butter knives just don’t cut it!

Now I’ve read The Continuum Concept and know that in some cultures children are allowed to use knives from such a young age that they can barely manage to hurt themselves with it, and I’m sure that experience of minor knife accidents is a good teacher and children learn to respect knives early and handle them early, but I wasn’t quite ready to make the leap.

But the idea kept nagging me, and I had my inspiration when I remembered reading Julie of the Wolves way back in grade school, and learning a little about Alaskan natives and I remembered being impressed that children were allowed to use a knife called an ulu with a half-moon blade. This was also the knife women used for their cooking needs, as opposed to the long, straight-bladed hunting/slaughter knives.

Women's Ulu Knife

A little modern hunt on Amazon revealed the existence of two-handled half-moon knives – called mezzalunas after the Italian word for a half-moon. Coincidentally, my online handle in a number of forums is “mezzaluna” which I chose for the astronomical significance, not even knowing about the knife at the time!

Two handles was the important part here – a traditional Alaskan ulu has one handle you grip in your palm, but with a two-handled knife, there’s no chance you’ll get a finger under the blade and exert enough pressure to hurt yourself. I ordered a Nigella Lawson brand beauty of a mezzaluna on Amazon, along with a slightly bowl-shaped cutting board.

Here’s my happy boy, chopping up apples last fall to make applesauce!
James chopping apples with a two-handled knife

A few words about knife skills for tots – anything that has a chance of rolling off the cutting board will! I showed my son how to chop the apple in half first, then lay the halved apple flat side down to cut further chunks without rolling. For longer items like cucumbers or carrots, I will pre-cut in half lengthwise for him, and let him cut the pieces from there.

Let me know if you try this with your kids!