Bygone Treasures - Lurking in Your China Cabinet Drawers

By Michael Rice

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Lurking at the back of everyone’s china cabinet cutlery drawers are little metal doo-dads that should come out more often.

I like fish. If I were told I could no longer eat meat, I’d be happy with fish. When folks come to the door expounding their philosophical beliefs, I tell them I’m a pescetarian. At that point, they nod their heads wisely and go away. Somewhere in your drawer are fish knives, charming pieces with wide ornate blades that would love to reacquaint themselves with a nice piece of cod.

While pickles have a salty personality, pickle forks do not. These can be found in your drawer too, chatting amiably with your fish knives. A healthy snack food around our home consists of roasted florets of cauliflower and broccoli, lightly olive oiled with a hint of spice added. A pickle fork is great for picking these up, and saves licking your fingers every few minutes.

Nuts are a wonderful food if you’re not allergic and can digest them. My regimen includes 16 unsalted dry-roasted almonds with breakfast. No, I’m not obsessive-compulsive, and sometimes I cut the straps loose and have an extra one. First came nuts, then came the nutcracker. There’s satisfaction in popping a shell between the jaws, squeezing hard and muttering “Take that, government agency of my choice.” Nut picks are a first cousin and are a great improvement over extracting nut meat with a fingernail.

Hands up those who’ve used grape scissors in the past year. Grape scissors are those things tangled with your nutcrackers in the back of the drawer. In Victorian times, it was not de rigeur to touch food with fingers, and grapes were usually served on the vine in a bowl. Stabbing a grape with a fork was a messy option, and grape scissors allowed snipping off a piece of vine then, behind a hand, nibbling a grape and extracting the pulp, discreetly placing the skin on the edge of a plate.

Baby spoons are often encountered in estates, and the Victorian “don’t use your fingers” admonition extended to very small children. The little tool in the drawer resembling a hoe is a baby food pusher. A child’s introduction to cutlery began with pushing food onto a spoon, reducing cleanup time, particularly if, including twins, one had 14 children under age 10.

With a focus on healthy eating, fish, roasted vegetables, grapes and nuts all have well-documented health benefits. To keep things in balance, there were eating utensils for not so healthy food, too, such as marrow scoops, butter picks, cake breakers and Saratoga scoops – used for serving potato chips more politely than ripping a bag open and dumping them in a plastic bowl.

Also, for those who think a “spork” is a great new invention… not so. The first one was created in the later 1800s for eating ice cream!

All of these items are collectable. Older pieces are often ornate, many are sterling silver, and their histories are written up in countless books on Victorian dining etiquette. I find these a pleasant read and a nice break from perusing Car Wash Tokens of Ontario and similar volumes on my bookshelves.

And now a plug for Senior Expo 2014! If you have any small-sized old items (e.g. coins, medals, postcards, photos, strange cutlery or anything else you’ve ever wondered about) – and would like to know their history and if they have collector value, stuff a bag and bring it along to the Expo at Pearkes Recreation Centre in Victoria on Tuesday, March 11. I’d be delighted to see what you have – and this service is absolutely free!



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