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The Cook’s Kitchen - The London Silver Vaults

The Cook’s Kitchen

Exhibition preview

THE COOK’S Kitchen: Culinary Silverware and Gifts for Epicures, a Christmas selling exhibition, runs at The London Silver Vaults from October 3, 2011 to January 28, 2012.

The exhibition will showcase every manner of silver gadget and culinary flourish for food lovers, from the Georgian, Victorian and 20th century kitchen – perfect for Christmas gift ideas as well as collectors.

The display will span collectable Georgian silver pans and nutmeg graters to basting spoons (used today as serving spoons) and Victorian paraphernalia such as asparagus tongs and carving sets. It will also include affordable gift ideas such as early C20th grapefruit spoons, pastry forks and cake slices.

Cooks employed in aristocratic homes of the Georgian period would have been provided with their own inventory of silver specifically for cooking. Silver utensils were issued to the cook because they did not taint food, they heated up quickly and were easily cleaned. Silver was a practical cooking metal, especially for preparing delicate sauces, cooking omelettes and soufflés, or for infusing fruit in brandy.

Georgian and Victorian chafing dishes (with a lid), used with a dish cross (a raised silver dish holder with central burner) for cooking, or keeping warm at table, will feature in the exhibition, as will brandy warming pans (also useful for melting butter and small amounts of sauce).

A more unusual chef’s item in the exhibition is a silver lemon or orange strainer, with two quite long (yet elaborate) handles to hang over a bowl, dated 1760, by Edmund Aldridge of London.

From this period, there are many items made for use in the kitchen that still have a practical purpose today: nutmeg and spice graters, shakers or casters for pepper, spices or sugar, ladles of every size from tiny for salt to arm’s length for soups and stocks, basting spoons, gravy strainers, caddy spoons and tea infusers.

The epicurean may take delight in serving up their favourite dishes in style, using silver entrée dishes, still elegant and practical for any dining table, flamboyant meat dishes and covers (which come in a multitude of sizes, even for the largest of turkeys!), butter, sauce and gravy boats. Silver mazarine dishes are quite rare, but were used to serve a whole poached fish (the mazarine is pierced to allow steam and excess liquid to drain away).

The Cook’s Kitchen

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 sauce labels might be hung on the cruet bottles (although these are rare), and a surprising range of names have been discovered from the latter half of the 18th century: chilli, ketchup, cayenne, soy, tarragon, lemon pickle, and elder.

By the Victorian period, a plethora of additional accessories for the presenting and serving of food became available to many households, particularly serving devices to help keep food warm, especially useful where the kitchen might be a distance from the dining room.

In fact, the invention of the Argyll (or Argyle) sauce warmer is attributed to a Duke of Argyll, who was fed-up with receiving cold food in his dining room at Inverary Castle. Cleverly designed with a double exterior wall in the body (into which hot water was poured) an Argyll sauce or gravy warmer is now quite a rare item. Examples will be exhibited.

Spoon warmers, often a nautilus (shell) or cornucopia shape, were kept on the table or sideboard to keep silver serving spoons hot; breakfast dishes with roll-over lids kept cooked breakfast warm at the buffet (some with a heat source beneath).

Other primarily Victorian developments included fish slices and servers; knife rests for the carving knife; special dishes with drainers and tongs to serve asparagus, and lobster picks.

Popular from Edwardian times, and eminently useable and affordable today, were sets of pointed spoons for eating grapefruit, delicate pastry forks with one broader tine to cut through fruit tarts or cakes, carving sets, and condiment sets (salt, pepper, mustard). Many of these items come as boxed sets and, with prices starting from around £100, would make useful gifts.

Even before the Georgian period, the traveller was well catered for in terms of portable, self-enclosed sets of knife and fork. In fact, it was common practice before 1700 for anyone who travelled to carry their own cutlery with them, and pocket-sized graters or spice containers came in a multitude of shapes (gentlemen would grate nutmeg and spices in to their hot chocolate or coffee, or add to food when eating at an inn).

Several examples will be in the exhibition, as well as a 17th century silver fruit corer, which neatly unscrews to be carried inside its own hollow silver handle.

With 30 specialist shops, The London Silver Vaults (established 1953) offers the largest retail collection of antique and modern English silver for sale in the world, including jewellery and watches.

The London Silver Vaults, Chancery Lane, London, WC2A 1QS