Collections
Monday
Nov142011

Vintage Kitchenalia #0073

jelly-mould-collection
 
Silvana-de-Soissons

The collector: Silvana de Soissons, Italian cook and food writer (UK)

The collection: Vintage kitchenalia

The story behind the collection...

I have been collecting vintage kitchenalia since I bought my first property, with my very own kitchen, 25 years ago. Being an Italian cook, food and kitchens have always been a very important part of my life. I have become, over the years, increasingly interested in the history of food and cookery, and I believe that by analysing the utensils found in old kitchens, sculleries and pantries we come to understand more closely how families and societies have fared through time. The methodology and utensils used for the preparation of food and drink are very revelatory to anthropologists and social historians because they allow them to piece together the ways and means by which different societies have evolved. The wealthier and more settled a household and its family, the more ornate and precious even everyday objects became.
 
I tend to collect objects from the early 1800's till about 1945, because I find that period of the vintage market most interesting: it spans the reign of the four King Georges, Queen Victoria, the Edwardian era and the two World Wars. The tools and accessories used in kitchens then were very well made, well thought out and highly practical. There was a deeply entrenched class system which presided over the running of households and the positions of women within the hierarchy of domestic life. This meant that some tools were used for very specific jobs and only certain people in the household were allowed to touch them, according to rank and status. It is interesting to note that the hands that stirred the pots were, for many years, subservient, but society has increasingly come to appreciate the making of a dish and the utensils that went to make it. Entire publishing and TV production companies now base their profits on showing the art of cookery, using vintage kitchenalia as props in many cases.
 

From charity shop to junk shop, antique shop, fairs and private sales, I have been able to source crockery, cutlery, glassware, enamelware, linens, pots, pans, cruets, wooden boards, mincers and even tiles. I love to talk to kitchenalia dealers, because they are often as obsessive about these objects as I am, and their knowledge often informs my buying. I ask lots of questions about provenance and I always think about the life of the person who had the object before me. Each piece has a narrative, which in many cases, sadly, is lost forever because it has changed hands so many times. The National Trust is very conscientious at preserving these narratives, so I am a keen visitor of the kitchens in their stewardship.

I am a food stylist so my hoard comes in very handy for photo shoots. You can never have enough monogrammed napkins, silver spoons, patterned china or small vases when you are trying to put together a sequence or series of photographs for a magazine or a book. The retro style is very popular, with many food and lifestyle magazines now trying to source the very pieces which Victorian scullery maids would have probably been using every day. Some pieces are very recherche.

I have always collected only pieces I like, and I use all my kitchenalia in my everyday life, for family meals, parties and celebrations. There have been occasions when a specific piece has been broken or chipped, but as most of the pieces have only cost between 50 pence and £10, the financial burden of loss is not too great. I am very fortunate to have also inherited a big collection of kitchenalia which has added to a sense of continuity: I think of the hands that came before me that held the sieve, the brush, the knife or the scissors and I feel a great sense of the evanescence of human life and the perpetuity of objects.
 
I have two golden rules for collecting: as the deisgner and craftsman William Morris once said "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. Kitchenalia should be both those things. A colander, a pot, a glass, a plate: all these things can be immensly beautiful, practical, functional and personal all at the same time. By surrounding myself with old, well designed, characterful and recycled objects, I can find enchantment in even the worst drudgery. Now you can't say that if you are peeling potatoes with a peeler from Ikea, can you?

 

Silvana is the founder of The Foodie Bugle, an online co-operative magazine dedicated to the sourcing, preparation and enjoyment of good food and drink.
She also has a personal blog at silvanadesoisson.com

All images © Silvana de Soissons and used with her kind permission.

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