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Asparagus Servers, their Origin and Use

March 10, 2009

Sterling Influences: Early Spring Stalks

Asparagus, in earlier centuries going by such names as “sparrow grass” and “sparagrass,” was cultivated by the Romans as early as 200 BCE.  Though consumption waned during the Middle Ages, it was revived during the reign of Louis XIV.  Thomas Jefferson sowed asparagus seeds at Monticello, and noted in his writings the vegetable’s first appearance each spring.  Mary Jefferson Randolph’s directions for cooking the dish were quite detailed, from scraping the stalks and correctly tying the bundles, to timing the cooking so as to bring out their “…true flavour and colour,” noting that “a minute or two more boiling destroys both.”1  The appearance of this harbinger of spring was cause for much celebration, and specialized servers were designed to enhance the experience.

 

"Yoked" asparagus tongs, London, circa 1846 (# 24437)

"Yoked" asparagus tongs, London, circa 1846 (# 24437)

The earliest asparagus servers date from the mid 18th century, and were scissor-like tongs with narrow corrugated arms.  As the 18th century gave way to the 19th, asparagus servers widened, taking the form of bow-back tongs with a collar or yoke – a form more commonly seen on the market today.

 

 

Individual asparagus tongs, London, circa 1909 (# 64809)

Individual asparagus tongs, London, circa 1909 (# 64809)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hinged asparagus tongs fitted with a spring appeared in England, on the European Continent and in the United states by the mid 19th century, and by the late 19th century American silversmiths were making a very practical fork-shaped asparagus server.  These asparagus forks usually, but not always, had blunt tines, to prevent tearing of the delicate stalks, as well as a shovel-like curve. 

 

Asparagus fork, St. Cloud by Gorham (# 70570)

Asparagus fork, St. Cloud by Gorham (# 70570)

 

Specialty silver trays were eventually made for the serving of asparagus:  These were rectangular or oblong in form, with a pierced liner which kept the stalks from sitting in liquid.  And although it is quite correct to eat asparagus with the fingers, individual asparagus tongs were introduced in the 19th century, by silversmiths catering to either the self-conscious or to those Victorians wanting to demonstrate Man’s superiority over all other creatures.

Asparagus Tray, Gorham Mfg. Co., Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1915

Asparagus Tray, Gorham Mfg. Co., Providence, Rhode Island, circa 1915 (# 61472)

Hot or chilled, served plain, marinated, or with a rich hollondaise sauce, asparagus has been celebrated for centuries.

 

— Joseph P. Brady, Silver Historian, 2009

 1   Dining at Monticello, edited by Damon Lee Fowler, p 61

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Gloria Holly permalink
    March 13, 2009 3:11 pm

    I look forward to other “Silver Lining” publications. Interesting , informative ,and welcomed by a “silver” lover.

  2. March 13, 2009 5:21 pm

    Thank you for a delightfully informative education into asparagus.

  3. Jeannie Giddens permalink
    March 14, 2009 3:53 pm

    Very interesting!!!! I really enjoyed finding out about some of the Antique silver pieces that I have gotten over the years and didn’t really know the history behind them!!!! Thank you very much for the enlightening!!!! Looking forward to more!!!

  4. Nancy Lou Riccio permalink
    March 14, 2009 6:40 pm

    I truly enjoyed the historical background on the asparagus servers. Please continue these notes.

  5. March 19, 2009 11:47 am

    This is so interesting! I am happy to learn about this website. I ‘ve shopped at BB for many years & am always pleased with your service, Thank you!

  6. November 6, 2011 9:09 am

    I think that is among the so much important information for me. And i’m glad studying your article. However wanna observation on some general issues, The website style is great, the articles is in point of fact nice : D. Excellent job, cheers

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