You slice into the fresh chocolate cake, seeing the shine of the silver server glimmering in the low light after dinner, slicing with the motion your grandmother did with the same server. You think to yourself how many times she had used this utensil before she gave it to you, forgetting the fact just an hour ago you found out you were having in-laws over for dinner.
Gathering for meals has been a time honored practice that dates back before cakes! In fact the development of tools such as the cake server and the fish slicer were only developed a relatively short time ago. Beginning as a rough device made from various metals, this perfected piece has been used for many items besides cakes, in fact it is probably the only utensil you cannot do without.
The use of various metal fish, pudding and cake slices (iron, pewter, silver) is well documented as far back as the 16th century. The English cake-like puddings, both savory and sweet, were abundant and, in fact, dinner time was just as often called “pudding time.” These early puddings, which could be meatless, or which could contain meat, fish or fowl, were the earliest foods to be served with flat-blade slices. Also, a distinction was made between these servers and general cutlery — They were servers for cooked foods, with nothing near the same sharpness of knives. It should also be noted that stuffing was also commonly called puddings.
The fish slice and the cake slice seem to have a common ancestor, or set of ancestors, in the trowel-shaped implements that served puddings. During most of the 18th century, both were of similar form, but the fish slice developed a wide, offset scimitar blade, while the cake slice remained more trowel-like. As the 19th century progressed, the trowel, sometimes flat, sometimes “dished,” became standard. By the late 19th century, American silver manufacturers were offering pie knives, pastry servers and cake slices, all of similar but slightly different form, within the same pattern.
In 1909 Tiffany & Co. was offering a “strawberry shortcake server” in addition to pie knives, pastry servers and cake servers. Straight cake slices were also introduced, with either a flat edge or with saw teeth. This explosion in the number and diversity of all kinds of silver servers, and the increased role of the dining rituals that spawned them, is directly related to the expansion of the US economy from the end of the Civil War until the 1920’s.
The Cake Server is flat and is designed for cutting and laying a piece on its side while removing it from the cake. The Pie and Cake Server has a 1-inch bend that allows for a scooping motion into a pie pan as well as a smooth removal of a slice from a cake as displayed below.
Though simple, without this fine piece, there would be many cake and pie slices being cleaned up from the floor!
Quotes to Consider:
An article in Scribner’s, circa 1874, describes a “…cake knife which has a fine saw to its splendid blade, to divide the frosting without fracture.”
The book Savory Suppers, Fashionable Feasts: Dining in Victorian America, by Susan Williams, addresses the proliferation and use of new servers, place setting pieces and etiquette books in social and religious terms: “The publication and instant popular interest in Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 only fueled such speculative discussions of the critical importance of manners…”
SOURCE: Joseph P. Brady Beverly Bremer Silver Shop Historian