Gravy Boats, Soup Tureens, and Salt Cellars

Illustration by Julia Rothman

Here’s a little tableware history — if there’s a lull in your dinner-table conversation, it might come in handy. And if you’re looking for the perfect gravy boat, salt cellar or tureen, I have you covered with a few of my favorites below! — Amy A.

Image above: Mme. de Pompadour’s saucière from Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Gravy Boat It’s a fairly good bet that there will be a gravy boat somewhere on your Thanksgiving table (if not, you should most definitely start your protest now!). The gravy boat comes to us from those sauce masters, the French. The 17th-century saucière was an oval-shaped vessel with double spouts and two handles (like Mme. de Pompadour’s saucière above) but because the meat was carved at a sideboard, the sauce had often cooled and congealed by the time the meat was on its way to the table. So in 1780, the Duke of Argylle invented a container that preserved the heat with a double-layered sealed jacket that was filled with hot water. In the 19th century, gravy boats were fixed to a small platter in order to protect the tablecloth. The gravy boat on your Thanksgiving table will probably more closely resemble those early oval vessels found in the French court.

Image above: 1741 Paul de Lamerie Silver Soup Tureen from 1stdibs
Tureens This covered dish was named for Marshal Turenne of France, who supposedly used his helmet to hold soup during a lull in battle. The tureen was the centerpiece of dining service à la française, where all the dishes were placed on the table at the same time. When the style of dining changed to separate courses (service à la russe), the soup tureen carried in a serving platter would open the meal. During the mid-18th century, tureens in naturalistic shapes, such as tureens in the form of a head of cabbage, were popular. That notch in the tureen to accommodate a serving spoon? That’s a 20th-century invention.

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