Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Room for Vinaigrette in Your Handbag?

You may not consider carrying vinaigrette in your purse, but two centuries ago ladies (and gents!) always travelled with this kind of vinaigrette:

Barely larger than a postage stamp, these vinaigrettes held aromatic mixtures that could revive a swooning lady or provide a pleasant aroma to mask the rude smells one encountered in daily life!

Typically made of sterling silver, like this one, vinaigrettes held a tiny sponge beneath a little grilled screen.

This one was made in Birmingham, England in the early 1800s and has its original sponge. (!) The sponges were soaked in perfumed oils mixed with vinegar; a mixture pungent enough to allow the vinaigrettes to be very small - a necessity since you carried this at all times.

These were often given as tokens of affection and this one has a sweet inscription "From Charles to Sophia" that makes you wonder what happened to them. Were they sweethearts? The inscription is quite worn (and also very small - less than 1/2" wide) which may indicate this was a well-loved item. Perhaps Sophia used it for decades while dreaming of Charles who perished at the Battle of Waterloo . . . oh! sorry, getting off track!

Inevitably, vinaigrettes fell out of fashion - perhaps in direct correlation to improving sanitation. Their popularity peaked between 1790 and 1820 and by 1840 they were considered quite old-fashioned. What happened to them? Many are still floating around in antique shops and online auctions. A basic one, sans sponge, can be found for under $100. More elaborate ones by famous makers or with engravings of famous sites often run in the hundreds. Or, you can go for the top of the line and get something like this:

This citrine and gold vinaigrette sold last month at Christie's for almost $4,000. I love the way the grille design can be seen through the Citrine . . . So, when you're antiquing, watch for these tiny gems. You may find a real bargain and you may get hooked on these little beauties!

I'm off to make a salad . . . I have a strange craving for vinaigrette!

(And tomorrow we'll be chatting about Thanksgiving Etiquette - that's right, with a capital 'E')


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