Being in the food history game means, of course, that we have a vast array of props that we use for events, workshops and photographs.
Many are wooden bowl, plates and cups as they can be used for many different eras and we have a few period specific items ranging from Roman glass ( reproduction) up to genuine 1950s bakeware.
For some items, such as the roman glass or shape specific wooden items, we head to some specialist makers, but for most of our items we have great fun scouring charity shops, second hand shops, boot fairs and antique fairs. We have also been known to liberate items from the parents kitchens.
Recently one set of parents was having a complete kitchen revamp which meant us coming home with a box of goodies ranging from Spode dishes, early Claris Cliff plates, antique salt and Pepper dishes and a set of Babycham glasses. If you are too young to know what babycham is, ask the parents and grandparents about the weird glasses that you served Babycham in!
We have of course a few favourites amongst our collection. A complete antique lead pewter dinner set , with lead pewter spoons from the late 1800s, glass Victorian jelly moulds, a silver tea pot from the 1920s, a copper kettle from the 1800s and our latest buy which is a vintage coffee grinder.
Nestled in amongst the pewter dishes in our prop room (i,e garage!) are silver glass bottomed tankards. While not original, they do provide good stories, especially when talking about the Navy, Pirates and press gangs.
In the 18th and 19th century, press gangs had the power to compel British men to become part of the Royal Navy by accepting "The Kings Shilling". The notoriety of press gangs lead to stories of people taking the Kings Shilling and agreeing to be part of the Navy after the press gangs would sneakily slip a shilling into a mans pint of ale. As you drained your pint, the shilling would fall out, you would pick it up and the press gang would declare you had accepted the Kings Shilling and hey presto - Welcome to the Royal Navy!
Glass bottomed tankards would allow you to check to see if there was a shilling in your tankard before you started to drink.
This is however probably a myth (possibly - but you never know!) and it has been suggested that the glass bottom was there so that the drinker could check that their pint was clear and good quality or the drinker could see out the bottom to see if someone was about to punch them!
Back to kitchenware or Kitchenalia. We first heard the word Kitchenalia from the author , food historian and kitchenware collector, Emma Kay. (There is a link to her website at the bottom of this blog) and we soon realised that our collection , while nowhere near the size of Emma's, could also be described as Kitchenalia and since then we have taken great delight in searching out various pieces to add to the collection.
Our latest set of purchases happened purely by accident, as most do. We were visiting Remake Scotland for a wee nosey and came upon a few interesting pieces. Amongst them was a silver sugar sifting spoon, a French Moulinet and a vintage coffee grinder.
We were very taken with the sugar sifting spoon with its delicate pierced bowl. It would have been used to sprinkle sugar over your puddings, cakes or fruit and would sift out any large lumps.
The French Moulinet was first invented in 1931 one by a French chap called Jean Mantelet and it is a vegetable or soft fruit press. Moulinet comes from the French word for windmill. The moulinet is also the front runner of the Molinex food processor.
The vintage coffee grinder that we also picked up was the second of the week, having found a slightly newer version in a charity shop earlier in the week. It is believed that the Ethiopian peoples first utilised coffee but the first credible reference to coffee is from the 15th Century. The first grinders would have been a basic Mortar and Pestle type but Turkey in the 16th century are credited with grinding coffee with mill, although it was probably a type of mill that was also used for spices. These were tall, cylindrical and beautifully decorated brass grinders.
Pop forward to the 17th Century and the first "proper" coffee mill was invented by a man called Nicholas Book. It's a bold claim but one that has stuck. Hand cranked coffee mills survived until the late 1800s when the first electric coffee mill or grinder appeared, and the hand operated mills fell out of fashion.