Chafing dishes

I’ve mentioned before that old cookery books often have extra chapters on things such as household management, table settings, organising servants, the never-ending chore of keeping thins clean… And I guess just as we might have a section in a modern cookery book about microwaves, ice-cream makers, soup-makers or freezing different foods in old books they have other information on what was current at the time.

In my old Brown and Polson  ‘Light fare’ book for corn flour and ‘Raisley’ recipes there is a section on chafing dishes, and recipes which can be used with them; a chafing dish is a way of keeping food warm while it is on the table… an excellent idea! We have a similar thing which s just a tray on which we put tea-lights beneath a pierced tray; the food in its containers sits on the tray and the tea-lights keep it warm. A chafing dish has hot water beneath the tray to keep the food warm, the water heated by a little spirit lamp. The word ‘chafing’ comes from the same root as the French ‘chauffer’

This is what my little old cookery book says about chafing dishes:

The chafing dish once used, becomes a necessary adjunct to the dining room. from breakfasts to late suppers at home or afield is it always welcome, for, besides the practical advantage of preparing a hot savoury dish at a moment’s notice, it awakens sociability in the same way as does a blazing fire.
In the United States, its home, it is to be found in practically every household, and its chafing-dish cookery has become an art. It originated on the tables of the wealthy, but soon spread to the humblest flats. At picnics, after the theatre, in camp or on yachts, the spirit lamp burns beneath blazers of lobster or creamed chicken, while the host stirs (it is usually the men who assume command of the dish), and the guests, gathered about him, offer laughing suggestions.

I love the conversational style of these old books, whoever wrote them – and they are rarely named, really tries to getaway from the dry instruction of the recipe, or the formal instruction on how to lay a table, or manage a kitchen maid. The writer is wrong, however in saying the United States is ‘the home’ of chafing dishes, it was used in England (and no doubt other countries) for centuries before. However, I love the imagery of this chafing dish going camping or sailing, and had to smile at the thought of the men stirring the chaffing dish – just as typically men commandeer the barbecue these days!


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