Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Orphan Flatware

The holidays are a time for tradition.  Often, traditions are passed down from one generation to another:  a menu, a recipe, a certain old movie or football game to watch on television.  A holiday is a time to get out "special" or "best" things to set the table for a family meal.

My mother only used her "best" silverplated (sometimes just called silverplate) flatware for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.  The rest of the year, the 1847 Rogers Bros.* knives, forks, spoons and serving pieces lived in their special wooden felt-lined case in a cupbord.   About once a year the silverplate pieces were taken out and polished, gently washed and carefully dried, then returned to their case.  Cheap stainless steel flatware, which could be hand-washed (or later, put in the dishwasher), air-dried, and generally mildly abused was the choice for everyday use. 

(*1847 wasn't the year they were made, by the way.  That's the name of the brand.)

Silverplated flatware like this was an integral part of the lives of many families after World War II and throughout the mid-20th century.    

A piece, or a set, of flatware was an excellent wedding, anniversary or Christmas gift. If you needed to replace a piece, or buy another place setting as your extended family grew larger, you could do that as well.   If you were very fortunate, you would receive a set (or often just one-piece-at-a-time) of sterling silver flatware, for those special occasions.  The flatware came in a variety of pretty patterns.  Flatware sets were widely advertised in women's magazines in the 1940s and '50s. 

"Adoration" was my parents' silverplate flatware pattern.  Dad's older sisters pooled their resources and bought a set for the newlyweds, carefully packaged in a small wooden chest with cutout slots for each size and style of knife, fork, spoon and serving piece.  The set included exotic items such as long-handled teaspoons, soup spoons, a ladle and butter knives, which were used even more sparingly than the rest of the flatware.  My mother passed this set on to me.  "Use it for special occasions," she told me.  Years later, I acquired another set of silverplated flatware, still in its original case, by the same company in a different pattern when some friends were liquidating their parents' estate.

And then a few weeks ago, I spotted a handful of pieces of silverplate in a plastic bag at an estate sale. They were bright and shiny, almost like they'd never been used.  The pattern was different than the other two sets I already owned.

Only a few pieces.  Where was the special wooden case with the felt lining?  Where were the knives, the dinner forks, the serving pieces?  No one at the sale knew.  There were just a few regular spoons and salad forks, a handful of soup spoons, six butter knifes, and an olive fork.  Someone had cherished them once, but now they were orphans -- silverplate flatware without a special occasion.  Their pattern is called "Daffodil."

I couldn't leave them there. 

I will use them, as well as some pieces from my other two complete sets, for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner this year.   But it won't be the first time I've used them.  I've already used them for a meal of soup, whole wheat bread and olives last month; with a chocolate peppermint loaf cake I made two weeks ago; with my tea this morning.  Each time I use them, I wash and dry them carefully and put them back in the drawer with the "everyday" stainless steel flatware, where they belong.

Because every day we're alive is a special occasion.  Because we live throughout the year, as the Apostle John once wrote, receiving "grace upon grace" to help us.  We should celebrate.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Old Magazine

I love looking through old magazines.   At a recent estate sale, I found a copy of the November 1933 Better Homes and Gardens.  I can imagine my grandmother sitting at her kitchen table reading this same magazine, planning what she will cook for Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s interesting to leaf through the fragile old magazine pages and see the similarities between life in America 79 years ago, and today.

Electrical gadgets -- okay, appliances -- were a big deal in 1933.  This magazine features more than one article extolling the virtues of the latest models of electric mixers.  (They weren’t widely used in homes until the 1920s.)

In 1933, as now, they used images of beautiful women to sell stuff.  Granted, this young lady in from the Depression era is wearing far more clothing than her counterpart today.  (This is a good thing.)

The country was in the grips of an economic disaster in 1933.  Many of the magazine ads feature the National Recovery Administration emblem, signifying that company’s participation in FDR’s New Deal strategy.   Advertisements communicated messages about how rich people also used inexpensive products that the “average person” could afford.

This ad for Listerine toothpaste features an illustration by Paul Desmond Brown (1893-1958), who has been described as the “pre-eminent American illustrator of equestrian subjects.”  Brown was probably best-known in the 1930s for his images of polo matches – that was the heyday of the sport.  He’s also known as an illustrator of children’s horse books.

In an article entitled “Good Stories for Your Christmas Gift Lists,” the writer reviews a book called Little Man, What Now? and makes this ominous sidebar comment:  “How in the world has Germany gotten this way?  Ever since the bewildering Hitler regime, I’ve been wondering, haven’t you?”

So many ads, large and small.  Floor wax.  Bran flakes.  Dog food.  A coupon to send away for information on raising chickens for fun and profit.  Cyclone fences.  Eatmor Cranberries (it was November, after all).  Electric space heaters.  Food, food, and more food.

One of my favorite ads features a recipe for gingerbread.   I thought it was only appropriate at the end of this nostalgia trip to see if the gingerbread they were eating in 1933 stands the test of time.  I’m happy to report that it does.

½ cup sugar

½ cup butter and lard mixed (I used all butter)

1 cup molasses

1 egg

2 ½ cups flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon cloves

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup hot water

(since my grandmother in 1933 would have added a pinch of black pepper to bring out the flavors of the spices, I added that too)

Cream shortening and sugar.  Add beaten egg, molasses, then dry ingredients which have been sifted together.  Add hot water last and beat until smooth.  The batter is soft but it makes a fine cake.  Bake in greased shallow pan 35 minutes in moderate oven (325 to 350 degrees).  Makes 15 generous portions.  Serve it every week.

Another ad, for Washburn Crosby Gold Medal Flour, shows a thick slice of gingerbread from their recipe ("FREE inside every sack of GOLD MEDAL 'Kitchen-Tested' Flour) cut in half, stuffed with fluffy cream cheese and drizzled with lemon sauce.  Perhaps I'll try that method as well.