Since childhood I have been taught (in school, though at home we were not religiously observant enough to uphold this practice) that when searching out leaven (‘chametz’) in one’s home the night before Passover, one does so with three props: a candle, a feather, and a wooden spoon.
The reason for the candle was clear: one searches at night with a candle so the candlelight is able to illuminate even small crevices in case pieces of chametz have become hidden there.
But I never quite understood what the feather and spoon were for. As I grew into an adult, and married into a family more religiously observant than the one in which I was raised, I found that even in my wife’s family the purpose of the feather and spoon was something of an unknown. It was conjectured that upon finding chametz, one was meant to “sweep” it with the feather into the spoon, whereupon it could be carried to “safety” to be burned during the ceremonial “burning of the chametz” the next morning. But this whole feather-spoon procedure was awkward and ineffective, in fact, rather counterproductive. It was easier to simply pick up the chametz or sweep it with a traditional brush and dustpan.
Nevertheless, from year to year, Judaica stores continued to sell the “Bedikas Chametz” (“Searching for Chametz”) kits, complete with candle, feather and wooden spoon. Invariably, we searched with the candle and discarded the feather and spoon.
Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 431:1) states:
At the onset of the night of the 14th of Nisan, we search for chametz by candlelight…
No mention of feather or spoon.
However, to my great satisfaction, I finally found the following in Mishnah Berurah, perhaps what is considered the most authoritative commentary on Shulchan Aruch. In comment 46 to Orach Chayim 433 he writes:
During the search, it is customary to take feathers and sweep thoroughly in holes and crevices to remove from them the chametz with the feather.
Now if we can just figure out what the spoon is for.