Dining with Antiques – Pierced Sterling Serving Pieces

A Gorham Luxembourg cucumber server like this one would be part of an elaborate Victorian table setting, as formal, unique serving utensils for almost every kind of food—oysters, asparagus, bone marrow, crackers, fruit preserves, horseradish, olives—were part of a daily fine-dining experience.

Wealthy Victorians had a formal, unique serving utensil for almost every kind of food—oysters, asparagus, bone marrow, crackers, fruit preserves, horseradish, olives—you name it. Today, in our fast-paced world, we puzzle over many of these decorative (and extraneous) items when we find them in upscale antique stores. There was a time, believe it or not, when servants polished the silver and individual place settings could include up to 10 pieces of flatware. In some homes, fine dining was an elaborate event every night of the week.

These flattened, ornate sterling silver pieces with cutout patterns were specifically designed for scooping thin, round slices of marinated or sauced vegetables. Most notably used for tomatoes and cucumbers, the juices drained through the beautifully scrolled holes and the slices could then accompany meats and delicate aspics with solid flavor instead of a soupy sluice. The larger of these pierced utensils were commonly called tomato servers while the ones with smaller blades (and tined edges) were usually identified as cucumber servers. They could be found in rounded, fanned, scalloped or even shovel shapes. And they adorned many a summer table.

Collectors look for unusual shapes and gravitate toward odd patterns (such as stars, birds, fish or flowers). They often seek high-quality brands and some pieces can sell for as much as $700. Many silver companies still produce these beautiful servers to accompany sterling flatware sets.

A Reed & Barton “Burgundy” pattern tomato server.

A Tiffany & Co. “Kings” pattern tomato server.

Of course, we always want to display our finds. And the best way to showcase these marvelous utensils is to present them with the vintage recipes of their era—the exact same favorites for which they were designed. Luckily, the foods requiring these particular servers are quick and easy to prepare.

I still make both of these delicious vintage recipes and use my silver pierced serving spoon to serve them, even on picnics.

Cucumber à la Crème
From The White House Cook Book, 1887

Peel and cut into slices some fine cucumbers. Boil them until soft. Salt to taste.
Mix together equal parts cream, sugar and vinegar.
Pour over the cucumbers.

Add a few shakes of dill weed and pepper to the cucumbers and this elegant creamed dish is a lovely warm accompaniment to leftover cold pork or beef.

Dressed Tomatoes
From Housekeeping in Old Virginia, 1879

Peel and cut into slices ripe tomatoes.
Put a layer into a salad bowl, sprinkle with salt, pepper and powdered sugar.
Put in another layer, and so on, till all the tomatoes are disposed of.
Pour over the top a teacup of weak vinegar.
Cover the top with ice, and set in the refrigerator 10 minutes before serving.

The thinly sliced, dressed tomatoes were often served with breakfast eggs during the 1800s, but could accompany any meal. They may be made exactly as stated, but the addition of ice is not necessary as long as they are kept chilled. Modern vinegar should be diluted in half with water. Balsamic, tarragon, cider or red wine vinegar can be used per your taste, but be sure the liquid almost covers the tomatoes (a shallow dish is best). Granulated sugar can be substituted if powdered sugar is not available. And a dash or two of celery seed or a bit of finely chopped green onion adds a little zing. For best flavor, the tomatoes should be marinated one to two hours.

Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in collectible books. “Dining with Antiques” is an ongoing feature in which she highlights usable collectible dinnerware, along with vintage recipes.

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