Today, we're taking a break from cooking to talk about another important aspect of the meal, one that is especially timely just now.
Unless you've been hibernating for the last few weeks, you're well aware of how the outbreak of a new, influenza-like virus has sent a wave of panic over the globe, creating a renewed hyper-sensitivity to sanitation.
Instructions on proper handwashing have become common on social media. There have been runs on toilet paper, hand-sanitizer, and masks. We're being cautioned about being in the confined crowds of an airplane, theater, church, and other such public places. And when people do venture out, they've started shying away from direct contact with others, avoiding handshakes and that modern habit of hugging everything and everyone in sight.
There is, however, a simple and very effective practice that most people have overlooked, one that has almost been lost to our progressively modern world: the use of silver tableware.
Yes, that stuff of your grandmother's that you think is too formal or else too much work and trouble to be bothered with.
What, you may ask, can the silver spoon that the privileged are euphemistically born sucking on have to do with sanitation? A lot more than you might think.
Like many other precious metals, silver is a naturally hostile environment for germs. Whether our ancestors knew this when they made it the choice metal for tableware, or unconsciously noticed that people tended not to get sick when they used silver is moot.
The fact is that whether your grandmother knew it or not, her silver flatware, even if it's just plate, is far more sanitary than the stainless steel that has largely replaced it. That's why, if you didn't foolishly sell it, you need to get it out and start using it every day.
If, as many misguided souls do, you still tend to think it too formal or troublesome, let's dispel those myths with a few facts.
· "It's too formal: we're casual in our house." Well, la-de-da. Formality is an attitude, not an object. It comes from the head and is something we do, not something we touch. It's possible, as any Victorian would readily tell us if they were still around, to be casual in a corset and bustle or starched collar and necktie.
· And at any rate, you don't have to use silver flatware only on a table laid with ironed linen, delicate bone china, and cut crystal. It can be used on a bare table set with casual dinnerware and bistro tumblers or, for that matter, on a tray in front of the television.
· "It has to be polished all the time." Wrong: if you use silver flatware every day, it'll stay bright and rarely needs more than a light touch-up when it does react with foods like egg, asparagus, onions, and some dairy products.
· "It can't go in the dishwasher." Oh, yes, it can—if you use detergent that doesn't contain citrus, bleach, or abrasives, and turn off the heated drying cycle. It'll get banged about and constant machine washing strips the patina from the crevices of intricate patterns, but if that doesn't matter, then by all means toss it into the machine with a clear conscience.
· "It's too much trouble to hand wash." Handwashing silver doesn't take significantly longer than rinsing and loading it into the machine. It'll add maybe two minutes to your clean-up chores. If that's too much time and trouble for you, well, then bless your heart.
· "People will think we're putting on airs." Really? You went to the grocery store in sweat pants and curlers and care what people think of how you set your family's supper table?
· "I don't know what all those odd pieces are for." So what? Use them any way you like.
· Look, a set of kitchen knives has three essential pieces: a big knife for food that's lying on a work surface, a small one for food that's hand-held, and a saw for cutting through food with a tough skin that covers a soft interior. They call them "cook's" knives, "paring" knives, and "bread" knives: that doesn't mean that they can only be used for chopping, peeling, and slicing bread. Likewise, a tomato server doesn't have to be used only on sliced tomatoes, nor does a bon-bon spoon have to be used for candy.
· In that same vein, while the dozen or so pieces that make up a single place setting do indeed work well for the purpose they were originally designed to satisfy, they can and do have other uses. Oyster and strawberry forks are perfect reusable appetizer picks. Bouillon spoons are great for passing messy single bites that you don't want people scooping from a single bowl. Individual butter or fish knives make fine party spreaders.
But regardless of the health issues, what it comes down to is that we shouldn't be treating our tableware, whether it's a family heirloom, a wedding gift, or something we've collected ourselves, with kid gloves, storing it away as something that's too fancy to use for "just family." We should be using and enjoying it every single day.
Wouldn't you rather be reminded of your grandmother every time you sit down to a meal rather than every six months when you peer into that silver box and wonder why you still have it? That it will also help keep our families healthy is, if you'll pardon the expression, gravy.