Mystery Object

Summer-Fall 2014: Culinary Molds

Culinary Molds, about 1750-1765. Staffordshire, England. Salt-glazed stoneware. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Catherine H. Collins Collection.

Culinary Molds, about 1750-1765. Staffordshire, England. Salt-glazed stoneware. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Catherine H. Collins Collection.

Still hungry from our last Mystery Object? How about something sweet? These Staffordshire jelly molds, made of salt-glazed stoneware, were a staple in 18th-century English dining culture.

In the second half of the 1700s, dining service à la française (“in the French style”) was at the height of its popularity. These dinners included a savory first course, a second course with a jelly or a pudding – often fruit-flavored – and a dessert course of sugar-based confections and dried fruits. The dining table was organized into an imaginary grid, and all of the courses were set out together much like a modern buffet.

An English table set in Service à la française, including molded treats.

An English table set in Service à la française, including molded treats.

Art in use

Mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a beloved treat in 18th-century dining rooms, the classic dessert blancmange is a sweet, white gelatin. To make it, moisten two tablespoons of arrowroot with two tablespoons of cold milk and stir until smooth. Then, bring half of a pint of milk to boil and add the arrowroot paste. Stir for two to three minutes, then sweeten with two teaspoons of sugar and flavor with vanilla or almond extract. Pour into a mold to set.

Comments from the gallery

Question: “How would you use an object like this in your life?”
  • “To hold peppermints and M&Ms”
  • “As the cat’s water bowl”
  • “Hairband holder”
  • “To make cake or brownies shaped like pineapples”
  • “Star-shaped mold for crème brûlée”
  • “To throw in a shouting match”
  • “As a squirrel feeder for my 32 pet squirrels”
  • “To hold the blood of my enemies”
  • “To put pineapple chunks in”
  • “A dish to hold odds and ends”
  • “To make cupcakes”
  • “I could eat spaghetti out of the big one!”
  • “To make cute Jello for girlfriend (she is cute)”
  • “Pineapple press”
  • “Soap-bar holder”
  • “Putting peppermints in”
  • “Baking cupcakes”
  • “Make pineapple cake”
  • “To make elaborate sandcastles, of course!”
  • “Aspic mold”
Question: “What are the first three words that come to mind when you look at this object?”
  • “Soap – dirty – fingers”
  • “Functional – simple – soap”
  • “Cup – cake – pan”
  • “What – the – heck?”
  • “Oatmeal – jellyfish – ruff”
  • “White – kitchen – food”
  • “Boat – pineapple – white”
  • “Cook – beach – eat”
  • “Nom – nom – nom”
  • “Exquisite – masterpiece – lemon wedge”
  • “Cool – awesome – fun”

And from a time-traveling gallery visitor: “These are pieces for my flux capacitator that I left on a recent trip to the 18th century. Sorry for the confusion.”

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