Porridge With A Silver Spoon

by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

January 19th, 2011

“It’s the only way to eat it” declared the antique dealer along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile as I toyed with a solid silver spoon from the reign of King George III (1760-1820). Porridge eating is always a matter of some debate, stood as I was both with this charming collector and the lady responsible for acquisitions on behalf of the Scottish National Museum. She piped up that a single spoon from King James 1 time had just been sold at auction for Thirty-Six Thousand Pounds (@USD58,000), and that she preferred her porridge with maple syrup. Antiques dealer replied he liked a dollop of honey, and that to add extra salt on it was anathema.  Having had my full of breakfast haggis, excellent sausages and some – yes – porridge – each morning at the Caledonian Hotel, I felt that the dish, often thought of as a humble, yet traditional winter staple, needed such accoutrements to truly appreciate its warming and filling, not to say delicious qualities. I’m a long way from being born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I had to have that to see if it was true. Here’s a photo of my breakfast table to prove it took its place.

As for the other silver, that’s an antique Christofle fork from a 6 piece set I picked up in Alexandria, and a bespoke silver napkin ring made by a craftsman in Sri Lanka. And yes, I made the porridge too.

The Alexandria set of silver cutlery that I have I purchased from a grubby antique store in Alexandria, Egypt, a few years ago. Back in 1956, a huge row erupted over the administration and management of the Suez Canal. With Egypt only getting 10% of the revenues from the controlling French and British, matters came to a head and the country expelled all foreigners at 48 hours notice. I’m sure many expected the crisis to be temporary and that it would blow over, and if you’re having to vacate a country suddenly, one of the last things you’ll take is the cutlery. But the ban remained for some time, by which families had moved on, most never coming back.  All sorts of items – cutlery sets amongst them, have found their way into dusty antique stores, unused and unloved for over sixty years. I purchased a nearly complete, six place set of cutlery for USD200. They were a mess, the silver had seriously tarnished and the steel knife blades were rusty. Despite my best endeavors back home, I couldn’t make them look very nice, so I approached Christofle directly. They took photos, and sent them to their Parisian workshops for evaluation. “Yes” they replied, “We can restore these”. It cost another USD1,000 to have that done, but the day they arrived back they were a sight to behold. It was also less expensive than buying a brand new complete six piece set, and has a lot more history. In fact the design was discontinued in 1920, which makes that set probably over 100 years old. I entertain a lot at home, and silver settings really do make the table. Cutlery with history makes it even more so.

As for the porridge, does it really taste better taken with a antique silver spoon? Of course it does!