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Issue Six / Essay
“It’s hard to know how the cocktail forks from yesteryear play into our everyday life”

Everyday Silver

Words by Nicholas Parker Photographs by Laura Dart

What do you do with inherited silver or mismatched, hand-me-down serving apparatus? Welcome it warmly into your home and make it fit into your own modern life. 

How often do we rummage through our sideboards or kitchen drawers and wonder where we put those mischievous caviars forks? Or on a less formal day, those pesky cracker spoons—or asparagus tongs? And don’t get me started on the pleasures of the perfect pickle fork, tomato server or cream-soup spoon.

For many of us, it wasn’t all that long ago that our relations—or in some cases, their help—kept meticulous track of countless place settings of silver. And, during down moments, had the pleasure of polishing and washing hundreds of different culinary implements. Oh, those were the good old days.

But in today’s world, it’s hard to know how the cocktail forks from yesteryear play into our everyday life. For some, they languish in safe deposit boxes—examined with casual interest by the inheriting generation, then in loving memory, driven across the state and deposited in a similar bank, in a similar vault, and idly stand ready for another 50 years. Or there is the more permanent fate, one a tad more shocking to those who love familial treasures: silverware is sold to a refinery to capitalize on the panic-driven prices of precious metals. My family—who are the gatekeepers to hundreds of years of our collective culinary history—recently executed a series of Victorian place settings that didn’t capture their aesthetic sensibilities. They weren’t Georg Jensen after all. And who doesn’t like a little extra walking-around money?

As for me, I’ve always enjoyed the pleasures of looking into my old mahogany sideboard and examining the contents. This piece of furniture has, thus far, survived five generations of boys—and their liberal use of BB guns. In fact, some of its contents date back hundreds of years, worn thin by the pride of my people. But there remains the question of fish forks, cheese scoops, berry spoons, demitasse spoons, ruffled ladles and the like. How do we make them work, or even identify their purpose, in today’s informal, ready-made world, even when we’ve freed them from our eccentric great aunt, bachelor uncle or banker’s watchful eye?

Well, I’m not an expert. Let’s be clear about that. But I am someone who likes to entertain. I also enjoy the layers of history—something that comes naturally to those of us who’ve inherited a mixed-and-matched, albeit .925-pure, world. Of course a little junior sleuthing on the Internet can prove helpful. Or you can always ask a more informed relation. Or, lastly, you can run the savage gauntlet and use your silverware however you prefer: categories be damned! I tend toward the latter—especially when searching for diminutive items to use during a cocktail party. There is no shortage of baby forks and spoons that circulate my living room. And other, larger items often make their way on to serving platters—be they proper meat forks or not.

In the end, I’m not sure the “how” is as important as the “why.” And while great-grandparents would surely be shocked by my modern-day sensibilities, I would hope they’d appreciate the fact that these simple tools from their past are a living part of my everyday. Unlike most of my contemporaries, I have no use for common flatware. My family silver is my day-to-day fork, knife and spoon—be they demitasse, game or cocktail. And while the metal is slightly more tarnished than in might have been 200 years ago, it is no less cherished. And the meals, no less enjoyed.

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