For all of my adult life, I have loved to cook. It is in those quiet times of chopping mountains of onions, celery and bell peppers that I work out the issues that weigh on my heart. I’m not a gadget freak. I have the best quality appliances, knives and an obscene collection of old cast-iron pots to work with. But recently, I’ve become interested in adding a few antiques to my kitchen.
Why not? The kitchen is my favorite room in the house, and I love antiques. I’m not alone.
Lucullus on Chartres Street
“Collectors today fall into one of three categories,” says Patrick Dunne, owner of Lucullus on Chartres Street. “The horizontal collector seeks many different items from the same time period. The vertical collector looks for the same type of item – such as copper molds. Then there is the collector who wants an assemblage of antiques to make a kitchen or dining room look great – they have old silver, beautiful old glassware, simple antique dinner plates.”
A quiet walk around his elegant shop introduces the novice and the experienced collector to a vast array of copper pots and molds with soft patinas, borne over time. Shelves of weighty French glassware sparkle, and hefty, rustic oyster plates are stacked on tables. Beneath their beauty and elegance is the story of a century or more of use.
Culinary antiques are meant to be used. “I tell my clients, these are precious items, but use them. They aren’t sacred relics. Enjoy them as they were meant to be!” he says.
Because of the interest in cooking and home entertaining, Dunne is finding culinary antiques to be attractive to younger collectors as never before. He’s also finding more men involved in food preparation and in collecting culinary antiques.
“Men have become more nurturing and more involved in home cooking and childrearing,” says Dunne. “It’s reflected in their antique shopping as well.”
Local decorator Alix Rico
Local decorator Alix Rico has also seen an increase in collecting culinary antiques, particularly large, rustic cutting boards, pottery bowls and hand blown wine bottles. She, as well as Dunne, finds that oversized linen napkins and towels, as well as table runners made from old flour sacks – with soft, slightly worn textures – are popular.
One culinary antique that is sought after is a rafraichisoire, a small table with a receptacle for placing a few bottles of wine to chill. Rico features these culinary treasures at a private sale each November.
All of these antiques connote a time in our social history that allowed for leisurely food preparation and dining. And perhaps that is what the busy home cooks of today seek: time to sit and enjoy lovingly prepared foods and family and friends whose company is treasured.
Both Dunne and Rico recommend that the collector find creative ways to use and display these treasures. Rico keeps her large pottery milk bowl on her dining room table, filled with flowers and also uses it to chill wine or serve a large salad. She uses an antique wooden flour scoop as a breadbasket. Her pottery confit jars double as a holder of forks for large luncheons or casual dinner parties.
During the holiday she fills that same milk bowl with pomegranates piled high. Her confit jars are placed on the mantel and are filled with white hydrangeas, tulips and amaryllis. Her rustic cutting board holds the holiday ham or turkey. Hand-blown wine bottles hold greenery and holly and decorate the table.
Dunne recommends that antique copper pots be used to make a gumbo or soup and be placed in the dining room as a serving piece, anytime, but especially during the holidays. A large copper jelly-making pot can be used to chill beer or wine. Slightly worn linen cloths make elegant holiday dinner napkins.
“Things that were valuable enough to be cared for a hundred or so years ago should be preserved and passed down,” says Dunne. “This, of course, is outside of the wretched disposable culture that has been forced on us!”
Antiques connect the dots of a family and the past. Using antiques, whether it’s your grandmother’s dining room table or your mother’s monogrammed napkins, creates a link from today to a culture when items were crafted by hands that cared about each carve in the wood or stitch on a fabric. They represent a past time and lifestyle that can be recreated by today’s chef or hostess.
It just takes finding these antiques, caring for them and using them well.