A-Z SILVER FOR COOKS
If you like to cook or know someone who does chances are you also like to entertain at home. This is an A-Z of the silver utensils a cook can use in the kitchen plus serving dishes and special silver cutlery for the table. You should be able to find early versions of most of them in the shops at the London Silver Vaults. If not, any dealer will source items for you.
Silver Cooking Utensils
Basting spoon – larger than a tablespoon, for basting roast meats. Georgian examples are quite collectable and have proved a fairly sound investment over the years. They are often used as serving spoons today.
Brandy warmer – small pan with a lip for heating and pouring small amounts of alcohol over puddings and desserts. With a wooden (often ebony) handle.
Chafing dish – a lidded dish, either with a hollow base for hot water to keep the dish contents warm, or a dish which could be used over a small flame at table to cook delicate dishes of fish or eggs.
Cucumber slicer – much like a modern mandolin, this late Georgian invention had an ivory back-plate with a raised silver blade for finely slicing cucumber.
Dish cross – a raised silver dish holder with a central burner, for keeping food hot at the table or on the buffet, or for use with a chafing dish. Examples exist from the 1770s.
Gravy strainer – the size of a basting spoon, the bowl has a shallow grill for straining lumps from meat juice or gravy.
Meat skewer – for use with a boned and rolled joint of meat, sterling silver examples are primarily from the mid-Georgian period.
Nutmeg grater – used principally during the period 1780-1840. There were two types: portable or table type. The systematic production of silver graters for nutmeg began in the late 18th century, with the rise in popularity of punch – a brew of rum or brandy, fruit juice, sugar and water laced with grated nutmeg. Most were cylindrical or semi-circular.
Pepperette – for use in the kitchen, a handled pepper shaker. First record of a silver one is 1546.
Sugar caster- a small, normally cylindrical holder for refined sugar with a removable, pierced lid. Although refined sugar was invented as early as the middle of the 18th century, there are very few examples of silver sugar casters made before 1850. There are many examples of pepper casters, dredgers, and muffineers (specifically for sprinkling salt on to muffins!) before this date but they were used to sprinkle pepper, salt, or dried mustard (see pepper pots). Useful for dredging icing sugar to top a cake, or chocolate powder for a cappuccino!
Tea infuser– aside from brewing tea, these can also be useful when whole spices are required for sauces.
Wine Labels- the cook would have used alcohol as a cooking ingredient and labelled the plain bottles into which it was decanted from casks. Dating back to the first half of the C18th examples are still plentiful. Known makers were the Batemans, Phipps & Robinson and Paul Storr. As well as the traditional vine and grape patterns these labels were also formed as shells, single leaves, foxhounds, initials, anchors and shields. (Collectors share their interest via the Wine Label Circle.)
Asparagus tongs and serving sets – silver dish with removable silver rack to allow water/steam to drain away, and a special set of asparagus tongs. Sets of asparagus tongs for individual guests to pick up and eat asparagus spears (a knife & fork is not used to eat asparagus!) can also be found. Although asparagus has been grown in the UK since the C16th, it is extremely rare to find silver server tongs before 1790; it was then the Victorians who introduced asparagus server sets.
Breakfast Dish – a generously sized scrolling lidded serving dish with a pierced liner for serving cooked sausages, bacon etc. The earliest known examples date from the late C18th but they are rare in silver before 1790. The vast majority were made in the C19th in silver-plate (they are still made today for hotels). Being used extensively in larger houses, collectors should check for condition (some may be missing liners and/or burners).
Cheese dish – like the ceramic variety, with a large base and handled lid
Entrée dish – a fairly shallow, lidded dish for serving the first course (the entrée) before the main course. Today they are used mainly to serve vegetables accompanying the main meal. Very few examples are known prior to 1780, the vast majority being late Georgian and Victorian and early C20th. Still made today.
Mazarine – an oval pierced plate placed in to a dish used in serving fish or meat. These drainers range in length from about 30 to 60 cm. The origin of the term mazarine is uncertain, but is generally said not to be derived from Cardinal Mazarin, who died before such pieces were used. The mazarine was made from the early years of the 18th century, but examples of any date are not plentiful.
Meat dish & cover – the dish often with a ‘sunken well & tree’ to catch the juices, and a domed lid to keep meat hot on the way to, and at, table.
Muffin dish – created especially to keep muffins hot, straight from the griddle; the silver dish has a hollow space beneath to take hot water, and a fitted lid. Primarily late Victorian and early C20th.
Strawberry dishes – made to display strawberries or other soft fruit and incorporating a small silver cream jug and sugar bowl. Usually decorated with fruit designs.
Soup tureen – these first came into vogue in the early C18th century, the earliest English example is from 1703 by Anthony Nelme.
Specialist cutlery for cooking, serving & eating
Carving sets – elegant set of carving knife, fork and steel, sometimes with additional pieces, usually in a presentation box (perfect gift idea). Cayenne spoon – This is a type of spoon acting as cruet stopper and used for cayenne pepper (red pepper). It has a very small, narrow bowl (indicating restrained use of the pepper!), and a long handle usually topped with a ‘devil’s head’. In the Victorian era, the fashion was to use a ‘devil’ or ‘demon’ to symbolise a hot sauce or spice.
Fish slice or serving set – a flat bladed implement sometimes together with a matching fork for serving fish at the dinner table. The earliest known examples date from the 1740s: these were single servers. A hundred years later forks were added to form a fish serving set. The very early single bladed fish servers were often symmetrical, pierced, and resembled trowels. Later C19th examples were asymmetrical with curved blades, and often had matching serving forks.
Grapefruit spoons – these are slightly larger than a teaspoon, and have a pointed bowls to help scoop out the segments. Popular in the 1920s and 30s.
Knife rest – to rest the carving knife on when not in use, keeping the table or cloth clean. Early examples are known, although rare, from the late C18th, but rests were more popular in the Victorian and early C20th periods.
Lobster picks & crackers – tapered, with a small two-pronged fork to tease out the lobster meat from the shell and claws, and the crackers are like extra-large nutcrackers.
Mote spoon – The silver mote spoon (or skimmer) is a type of spoon having a bowl with a pierced pattern of small holes, used to skim off floating particles of tea leaves and motes (tea dust) from a cup of tea. The handle is thin and tapering, with a sharpened point. It is one of the most unusual and intriguing forms of collectable spoon and its purpose has caused much debate. The use as a punch, tea or lemon strainer, sugar sifter, olive spoon, caddy spoon and others have all been put forward as possible uses, but the most likely use was to skim the surface of tea with its pierced bowl. Mote spoons are generally teaspoon sized and were made from the late 17th century when tea first became more popular, to the 1770’s, after which the tea strainer came into use. The pierced bowls vary from simple round holes to elaborate decoration.
Nut pick – a slim, slightly curved and pointed stick to help prise out nuts from the shell.
Pastry forks – which have three tines, one of which is wider for easier cutting through pastry tarts etc. most popular in the early C20th and used also at tea-time for eating cakes.
Marrow scoop or spoon – designed to scoop out the cooked marrow from a bone, delicious spread on toast with a little sea salt and caper salad on the side. These spoons were widely used during the reign of Queen Anne, when marrow was considered quite a delicacy and meat was a luxury only the rich could afford on a regular basis. Examples of silver marrow spoons can be found as early as the 1690s and were an integral part of many travelling canteens. By the end of the 18th century, marrow spoons had become quite rare and were rapidly being superseded by silver marrow scoops. The marrow scoop has two scoops one being roughly twice the length of the other.
Serving sets – knife and large fork, or trowel-shaped server for cakes and tarts.
Stilton scoop – for use with a whole stilton, some have a helpful slider to push off the scooped cheese.
Sugar Nips or Tongs – used for lifting sugar pieces to put into tea cups. From about 1720 they assumed a scissor shape, succeeded after 1770 by the more functional bow type tongs.
Tea caddy spoons – There are very few examples of silver tea caddy spoons made before 1770. The vast majority were made in the 19th century. They were still made up to the 1940s but in much smaller numbers. The shape and decorative style of the bowl varies from plain circular to imaginative designs based on leafs, feathers, shells, shovels, jockey caps, and hands. The handles were often engraved or in the style of matching flatware e.g. Old English, Kings, Queens etc. Some have wooden or ivory handles.
Toasting fork – with a long, extendable handle, used to toast at the fireside, probably, rather than the kitchen. Old records show that toasting forks existed as early as the 1550s in noble English households, and toasting forks were part of the equipment affluent students took to university. The earliest example in the V&A collection dates from 1669.
On the Table
Argyll (Argyle) – a warming device for gravy or sauce, the invention of which is credited to the Duke of Argyll, ingeniously using a double exterior wall in the body in to which hot water was added, most particularly used for lidded sauce jugs but also found for example as egg cups. The vast majority were in the form of a small coffee pot either straight-sided cylindrical or with a baluster. Now quite rare; very few examples exist before 1760 and they seem to have lost favour in the 1830s.
Butter boat – a small boat-shaped serving dish for pouring melted butter at table.
Condiment set – usually comprising mustard, pepper and salt pots.
Cream jug – typically a small upright jug for pouring cream at table, however boat styles are also common.
Cruet sets – comprising three, four or more (sometimes eight) silver stoppered glass bottles were popular from Georgian times, and would contain a multitude of sauces for guests to help themselves at table. Silver labels might be hung over the cruet bottles (although these are extremely rare to find today), and examples of sauce labels from the C18th have included Ketchup, Cayenne, Soy, Tarragon, Lemon Pickle, Elder, Harvey and Chilli.
Egg coddler – a small, deep lidded dish containing a holder for four eggs, with a small burner below, for coddling or boiling eggs at table.
Grape Scissors- first appeared in the 1800s, George III’s reign and simply looked like a pair of ordinary scissors. Then produced in cutlery patterns to match canteens plus grape and vine, Aesop’s fables and animal shapes. Produced well into C20th.
Oil & vinegar sets – more popular from the late Victorian period.
Pepper pot – distinguishable from a sugar sifter primarily by size, most pepper pots or spice shakers stand no more than 5” to 6” tall. Larger than that usually indicates a sugar shaker.
Sauce boat – a typical boat-shaped pouring dish for sauce or gravy, can also be double-lipped with a central side-handle.
Salt cellars – are lined in blue glass (typically supplied by Bristol glass makers who traditionally made blue glass), or silver-gilt, as salt tarnishes pure silver.
Sauce tureen – distinct from a sauce boat as this has a lid, and does not pour, but would be used with a ladle.
Spoon warmers – often in shell or cornucopia form, the earliest spoon warmers date from the 1860s, and formed part of the Victorian love of dinner table paraphernalia, these helping to serve food at the right temperature.