During my youthful years, my mother would call a person to eat, whether it was breakfast, dinner or supper, after the food had been placed on the table and say, “Eat it while it is still warm.”
For decades in our home the only warmer, actually this method just retained the warmth, was the edge of the large coal stove.
The retention of warmth in food was and still is in many instances, easier thought than accomplished. Imagine the difficulty of serving warm food during the 1700s and 1800s in large homes when the food had to be transported through long passageways from the kitchen to the dining area, or via dumb waiters from cellar cooking areas to the first floor. Also some mansions had their cook house separate from the main house.
Invention. Necessity, it has been often said, is the mother of invention.
Imaginative people attempted to solve this warming problem by devising many serving and warming devices, many were of silver due to the large strata of society that usually had this problem at first.
The commoner usually was served their food close to the stove and usually directly from the cooking utensils. The malleability of silver, and also the ability for this metal to retain heat, made it one of the best mediums.
The tables of the wealthy were often quite elaborate in decorative appearance and their warmers were also decorative.
Silver in England and American dining areas was a status quo for the affluent members of society. From the silversmiths, tea pots and kettles, originally utilitarian items, became objects that were in line with the Georgian and Regency periods.
Warmers – covered dishes – therefore became part of the serving utensils along with service copied from the French, the then custom setting influence.
Family custom. In following this trend, food was placed on the table before dinner was announced to the attendants. This is undoubtedly where my mother and her family picked up this custom of the French ancestry – Gillettes.
One of the most common food warmers was the brazier. This appeared similar to a skillet on a stand. Below the dish of food was a bowl of hot coals. This all stood on a three-legged sort of scaffold.
Another device looked like a tea kettle and set above the alcohol-burning unit. This type of warmer device was also made to hold a variety of other beverage servers.
A few decades ago, similar warmers were common at some restaurants and homes. Coffee warmers use the same general appearance of warming devices.
A covered soup tureen first appeared in France. It was placed on the four legs holding a container of hot water.
Today’s buffets and restaurants set their food containers in large containers of hot water, which is the same concept of the late 1800s.
The tureen-type warmers looked like one unit and were made in diverse sizes and decorative appearances.
Spirit holder. To suit a variety of service wares, a multipurpose spirit heated four-legged dish holders, which was called a dish cross. It looked like a cross when viewed from above. Above the four feet and legs was a continuation with flat parts to hold the dish and in the center was the alcohol burner.
Some unusual warmers were for heating spoons. For example nautilus-shaped and clam-shaped warmers were for ice cream spoons.
It was the discovery of silver in the West around mid-1800 that started the general public’s owning of the precious metal. Until then, only 4 percent to 5 percent of the public could afford silver wares.
These new sources of silver, plus mass production procedures and the development of plating, allowed silver interest to grow. There became a wide variety of silver products and a wide variety of prices.
Any limits? Imagination was then the only limiting factor in the ornamentation and forms produced in warmers.
These highly decorated utensils of silver add an attractive and admired display to any silver or cook ware collection and presentation.
Care must always be practiced in cleaning and polishing silver due to its soft nature. No abrasives or chemical immersion should be used with silver.