Asparagus Etiquette & Stylish Serving

Asparagus etiquette may have passed you by but Ruth Lyon has researched the history of asparagus and on the way has established what is acceptable.

She also delves into the most stylish and historic serving dishes designed especially for asparagus. Here is what she has to tell us:

Asparagus etiquette may have passed you by but Ruth Lyon has researched the history of asparagus and on the way has established what is acceptable.

She also delves into the most stylish and historic serving dishes designed especially for asparagus. Here is what she has to tell us:

Stylish Serving Dishes

          "One highly enjoyable result of our research has been the discovery of the amazingly colorful and wonderful  ceramic serving dishes and their companion pieces, diverse and sometimes fanciful silver serving tongs and forks, devoted to that one vegetable.

          It appears fortuitous that increasing availability of the asparagus occurred in a time when the large-scale production of quality ceramics, fine porcelains and china had become possible and, at the same time, made beautiful tableware more accessible  to the masses. With quality silverware apace, the serving of this springtime favorite became an art form. Now, we can practice that art form whenever we so desire and our pocketbooks allow. Fresh asparagus is art for the palate, whether served from majolica or a paper plate, but it is a delight to browse among some of our great-grandmothers' table settings, and perhaps those from even  earlier times.

          Majolica, with its bright colors and lovely glaze, is a perfect companion to the vegetable, and majolica producers from everywhere quickly applied their art to this wonderful food form.  Majolica  serving dishes are truly marvelous to behold. Frequently, there were individual asparagus plates to match.         

          Needless to say, producers of fine china or other ceramics also included asparagus serving platters or dishes in their catalogs, as did makers of silver tableware.

Asparagus Serving Plate with JugAsparagus Serving Plate with Jug
Majolica Asparagus Serving DishWonderful majolica asparagus platter and individual plates - the "baskets" also majolica and molded into the plates, are of course for butter or hollandaise
Majolica Asparagus Serving Dish with Silver tongsMajolica Asparagus Serving Dish with Silver tongs
French Asparagus Serving DishFrench Asparagus Serving Dish
Asparagus Serving Plate with JugAsparagus Serving Plate with Jug
Wonderful majolica asparagus platter and individual plates - the Wonderful majolica asparagus platter and individual plates - the "baskets" also majolica and molded into the plates, are of course for butter or hollandaise
French Asparagus Serving DishFrench Asparagus Serving Dish
Majolica Asparagus Serving Dish with Silver tongsMajolica Asparagus Serving Dish with Silver tongs
Minton Asparagus Serving DishMinton Asparagus Serving Dish

Those silver companies, it appears, delighted in producing fanciful pieces  devoted to the serving of this vegetable which, in those times, would only be available for a few weeks out of the year. It is extremely rare to find silver serving tongs before 1790, and it was not until the Victorian period that asparagus server sets were introduced. It is easy to surmise that these new accouterments to fine dining would have been popular wedding gifts for the debutante set. Some catalogs suggested that the asparagus servers could be utilized for cake as well. Many companies created boxed sets of small individual asparagus tongs, to accompany the individual plates.

Ivory handle, gold wash asparagus fork, CA1888Ivory handle, gold wash asparagus fork, circa1888
Classic Asparagus TongsClassic Asparagus Tongs
Individual Serving TongsIndividual Serving Tongs
Silver Asparagus TongsSilver Asparagus Tongs
Silver plate asparagus Tongs by Reed and BartonSIlver Plate Tongs by Reed and Barton
SIlver Cake / Asparagus ServerSIlver Cake / Asparagus Server
SIlver Plate Tongs by Reed and BartonSIlver Plate Tongs by Reed and Barton
SIlver Cake / Asparagus ServerSIlver Cake / Asparagus Server
Silver Asparagus TongsSilver Asparagus Tongs
Individual Serving TongsIndividual Serving Tongs
Ivory handle, gold wash asparagus fork, circa1888Ivory handle, gold wash asparagus fork, circa1888

In time, of course,  pottery  or ceramic tableware and aluminum or stainless steel flatware adopted the trend. There are numerous examples to be discovered at yard sales, flea markets, and on line, you will doubtless find something to fit your budget - there are examples in all price ranges and in myriad forms  and materials. However, as in all shopping, look for what you just can't resist. Buy perfection, if you can find it, though majolica is so prone to chipping that you may decide to forgive minor damage. In silver, look for design that appeals.

          If you're planning to start a collection, buy one great piece, rather than two or more mediocre ones.

          If this is just for fun with the family on the deck, find some funky tongs, maybe aluminum - old butter dishes make fun individual serving dishes; they don't have to match. Put the asparagus on the grill, or steam it or bake it with oil and garlic and never overcook it.

Asparagus Etiquette & Famous Consumers

Now that we've examined the appropriate dishes or platters, the tongs and forks, perhaps we should address another subject - a source of gossip, raised eyebrows, and more, asparagus etiquette. History informs us that Benjamin Franklin was introduced to asparagus during his long sojourn in France; he considered it a delicacy. Being Benjamin Franklin, he also considered it perfectly acceptable to write a treatise relative to the effects of asparagus upon urine. The treatise was well received, discussed at dinner tables, and provoked learned response from other scientists.

          However, the manner in which he ate it was widely derided; Madame DuBarry dined out on the fact that the queen had remarked that "he ate his asparagus like a savage; he lifted the stalk to his lips and bit off the tip, rather than cutting it on his plate with a fork".

Six silverplate Six silverplate "asparagus eaters" 4.5" long. Usually paired with individual serving dishes. A set of eighteen, with matching servers sold for $1,150 in 2014. French, Christofle
Rare Caughley asparagus serving dish, 1789. The popular blue underglaze fisherman pattern was created in serving dish and individual sizes. Two individuals sold for $541 recently (2015).Rare Caughley asparagus serving dish, 1789. The popular blue underglaze fisherman pattern was created in serving dish and individual sizes. Two individuals sold for $541 recently (2015).
Six silverplate Six silverplate "asparagus eaters" 4.5" long. Usually paired with individual serving dishes. A set of eighteen, with matching servers sold for $1,150 in 2014. French, Christofle
Rare Caughley asparagus serving dish, 1789. The popular blue underglaze fisherman pattern was created in serving dish and individual sizes. Two individuals sold for $541 recently (2015).Rare Caughley asparagus serving dish, 1789. The popular blue underglaze fisherman pattern was created in serving dish and individual sizes. Two individuals sold for $541 recently (2015).

         In fact, to this day, the proper manner of eating asparagus is regularly discussed. It seems, according to Emily Post, Dear Abby, and Miss Manners, Ben was right. Emily said, in 1927 it was" proper to eat asparagus with your fingers, but never let the juice run off your elbows. Dear Abby and Miss Manners agree. President John F. Kennedy taught Jackie that it was socially acceptable; his lesson was reinforced by Letitia Baldridge, whose only caution was that if it had been cooked too long or was smothered in sauce, a fork and knife should be used. (At the asparagus festival, you may let the buttery juice run down your elbow if you wish. But don't slurp your chowder.

          As to cooking, Catherine Beecher, the 19th century Martha Stewart (and then some) boiled it for far too long in a small amount of water, served it on buttered toast, then poured the liquid in the pan over all. Mary Randolph, at Monticello, steamed it just right and also served it on buttered toast (cut from a freshly baked round of bread)." Do not pour butter over it, but serve hot butter in a pitcher," she advised.

             Have a great dinner."




Gus enjoying Asparagus SeasonGus enjoying Asparagus Season

The easiest way to cook Asparagus!

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