Chafing Dish Cookery - Vintage Cooking Process

Chafing Dish

Chafing Dish © 1913 The Boston Cooking School

The chafing dish is most useful for a number of cooking purposes.  It is specially designed for use on the table, in order to prepare light, hot dishes suitable for breakfast, luncheon or supper. 

The chafing dish is admirably adapted for cooking scrambled eggs, stirred eggs, omelets, pancakes, stewed oysters, creamed lobster; also for broiling cutlets, chops and small fillets; for cooking sweetbread Râgout; for stewing tomatoes, mushrooms, etc., it will be found exceedingly useful.

The chafing dish will also be found a useful adjunct to the sickroom, as by its help various food preparations can be cooked or kept hot.  No up-to-date housekeeper should be without a chafing dish, because its resources are almost unlimited.

Table Talk: The American Authority upon Culinary Topics and Fashions of the Table, Vol. XXVII, 1912, A Series of Articles Published Throughout the Year. Published Monthly by The Arthur H. Crist Co., Cooperstown, NY. A Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Interests of American Housewives, Having special reference to the Improvement of the Table.  Marion Harris Neil, Editor.

Chafing Dish and Accessories.

Chafing Dish and Accessories. One Hundred Recipes for the Chafing Dish, 1894. GGA Image ID # 19f5c7e25a

An exceedingly important feature in successful Chafing Dish cooking is that the wicks of the lamp should be perfectly trimmed, and the reservoir about one-half full of alcohol, after cooking a dish, and when making preparations for another, look carefully after this feature.

Have the wicks so regulated that all available flame shall be entirely under the dish and that none of it shall come up the sides.

As the water is very liable to boil over, it is best to have a tray under the Chafing Dish to catch it or any other drippings.

Unless otherwise directed, the covers are supposed to be off the Chafing Dish in the following recipes.

In cooking over a hot water pan, see that the proper quantity of water, about one-half inch, is in it.

Judgment must be used as to time; the time given in these recipes was the actual time consumed in cooking the various dishes, over a full fire, with a very steady flame, and the absence of any condition (such as draughts, etc.) tending to make the flame variable.

In the recipes given, the intention has been to keep the seasoning very mild. Individual tastes must be consulted as to the proper seasoning to use.

By the term "pat of butter," a piece the size of a large English walnut is intended.

SUCCESSFUL omelet is very difficult to make in the ordinary Chafing Dish with two eggs.

When using the term "cupful" in these recipes, the capacity of a full-size coffee cup is intended.

See that the dish is scalded before using and thoroughly rubbed with a dry towel so that all powder used in polishing may positively be removed.

The steel pan will be desirable for making omelets, frying oysters, and all dishes of this class.

An adage says, "constant vigilance is the price of safety." So is constant watchfulness a necessary element to success in the successful use of a Chafing Dish.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 01495. Capacity: Four Half Pints.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 01495. Capacity: Four Half Pints. Ensemble consists of Chafing Dish and Cover, Stand and Lamp, Hot Water Pan, and Cutlet Dish. Made by Gorham Manufacturing Company. GGA Image ID # 19f5cff325

History of the Chafing Dish

The Chafing Dish has played no small part in the I civilization of the world. In tracing its history, it is interesting that it had always appeared when nations had ceased to war and had turned their attention to the science of good living and the art of enjoyment.

It has ever been associated with the graces and amenities of life. Indeed, its appearance has seemed to signal a nation's progress and be signs of general good cheer and success.

No one will deny that the Chafing Dish is a principal instrument of good cooking. Athenaeus, the Greek philosopher, asserted "that nothing has so powerfully contributed to instilling piety into the souls of men as good cookery."

That piety received an impetus from it is easily inferred that a Chafing Dish was a familiar adjunct on the altars in old French churches. Glowing with lighted charcoal in winter was a beacon of comfort to the faithful priests.

Its use, however, was not limited to chancels. More than two thousand years ago, the Chafing Dish fulfilled its proper office as the promoter of man's palatable pleasures at the tables of the wealthy Greeks and Romans.

When it first appeared, Seneca said of it, "Daintiness gave birth to this useful invention so that no viand should be chilled and that everything should be hot enough to please the most pampered palate. The kitchen follows the supper."

The Chafing Dishes of the ancient epicures were exquisite in artistry and beautiful design. Still, it is hardly necessary to add, and they were not as helpful as the modern dishes.

"Each of these elegant utensils, says Soyer, who has written exhaustively of the lives and customs of the Greeks and Romans, 44 was supported by three geese. It measures seven inches from the extremity of one of the bird's heads to the opposite edge of the circumference.

The tray is 15 lines or an inch and a quarter deep, and the feet raise it about two inches above the plane. The three geese have their wings spread and terminate by neats' feet. The heads raised on the breasts form graceful handles. These Chafing Dishes arranged systematically on the sigma produce a delightful effect."

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0520. Capacity: Five Half Pints.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0520. Capacity: Five Half Pints. Ensemble Consists of Chafing Dish and Cover, Stand and Lamp, Hot Water Pan, and Cutlet Dish. Made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company. GGA Image ID # 19f63ae45c

Another writer describes a Roman banquet scene, of which the Chafing Dish was a prominent feature. "Dishes of massive silver occupy another compartment of the vast cupboard. A wealthy family could not possibly do without this luxury.

Sylla had some which weighed 200 marks, and Rome could produce more than 500 of the same weight. According to this enthusiastic chronicler, there was "a perfect furor for these dishes which greatly augmented in the time of Emperor Claudius.

One of his slaves named Drusillanus Rotundus possessed a silver dish weighing 1,000 marks which were served amid eight smaller ones weighing 100 marks each. These nine dishes were arranged at a table on a machine which supported them and placed them prominently in view."

Cicero undoubtedly referred to the Chafing Dish in making one of the most telling points in his first public law case. He was engaged in defending Sextus Roscius, who was accused of murdering his father, against Sylla, who sold the estates of Roscius for a trifling sum to his favorite slave, Chrysogonus.

In making a summary of the wealth of this slave and an exposition of his luxurious living, Cicero says: "A house filled with Corinthian and Delevan vessels, among which was that celebrated stove which he so lately bought at so great a price that passers-by who heard the money being counted out, thought a farm was being sold.

This was the anthepsa to which Cicero referred and is described as "a kind of saucepan of Corinthian brass of considerable value, and made with such art that its contents cook instantly and almost without fire. This simple and ingenious vessel possessed a double bottom. The uppermost one holds the light delicacies destined for the dessert, and the fire is underneath."

So popular was the Chafing Dish that a semblance of it was used for a table ornament, just as floral pieces are used now.

Silver gridirons with Syrian plums and pomegranate seeds beneath them to simulate fire were a feature of the table at a supper of the Roman Lentulus.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0526. Capacity: Three Half Pints.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0526. Capacity: Three Half Pints. Ensemble Consists of Chafing Dish and Cover, Stand and Lamp, and Hot Water Pan. Made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company. GGA Image ID # 19f6e83e0a

Not only did the Chafing Dish adorn the tables at royal banquets and contribute to the gastronomic enjoyments of the rich, but it was in high favor then as now, among the representatives of the theatrical art.

Pliny relates that the tragic actor, Aesopus, had a dish worth 1,000 sestertii. No doubt then, as at present, the actor enjoyed his hot midnight meal filled with grateful appreciation of the Chafing Dish, which has inspired a modern play-wright to make it the subject of the anode.

When strife and anarchy reigned in the middle ages, this utensil of polite life fell into disuse. But in the fifteenth century, when learning received an impetus and the life of the queen and laypeople became more elegant and comfortable, the Chafing Dish is heard of again.

In a treatise on "Physiological Remains," Lord Francis Bacon used the silver Chafing Dish as a standard of comparison for durability in metals. He charges experimenters "to make proof of the incorporation of silver and tin in equal quantity, or with two parts silver and one part tin and to observe whether it will endure the ordinary fire which belongeth to Chafing Dishes, posnets and such other silver vessels."

The Chafing Dish is a cosmopolitan vessel. It belongs to all nations. It was no less appreciated by the French than the English.

But during the political turmoils and wars in France, the Chafing Dish, like other comforts and enjoyments of good living, was relegated to the shelf. It might have served for the glorification of a particular minister of France, who for its lack suffered a mortification that the caustic wit of Talleyrand has immortalized.

By some unfortunate circumstance, the fish, when served Talleyrand, was cold. "That is a magnificent carp," said the financier, "how do you like it? It came from my estate in Virsur Anise."

"Did it?" said Talleyrand. "But why did you not have it cooked here ?"

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0560. Capacity: Four Half Pints.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0560. Capacity: Four Half Pints. Ensemble Consists of Chafing Dish and Cover, Stand and Lamp, Hot Water Pan, and Cutlet Dish (if Desired). Made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company. GGA Image ID # 19f6f4ee5c

Suppose the Chafing Dish had adorned that board. In that case, the scene might have been made as memorable for gustatory triumphs as that depicted by Philemon, who gives a pleasing pen-picture of what accomplished artists, cooks were in the very olden times.

"One of the great cooks of his day, delighted at his success in using the Chafing Dish, said that he cooked a fish so exquisitely that it returned him admiring and grateful looks from the frying pan. He had treated it with such Daintiness and delicacy that, even when fully cooked, it lay on the dish as fresh looking as if one had just taken it from the lake.

The result was such a rarity the delighted guests tore it from one another, and a running struggle was kept up around the board to get possession of this exquisitely prepared morceau."

And yet says the cook, "I had nothing better to exhibit my talent upon than a wretched river fish, nourished in mud." This culinary boaster was so delighted at his success, he declared with triumphant accents, "I think I may say that I have discovered the principle of immortality and the odors of my dishes would recall life to the nostrils of the very dead."

Although this hyperbolical assertion is highly amusing, those who, in this practical day and generation, appreciate the epicurean delights distinctive of the Chafing Dish, would scarcely voice such an extravaganza, nevertheless, feel the quickening enthusiasm that exalted this ancient cook.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0565. Capacity: Three Half Pints.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0565. Capacity: Three Half Pints. Ensemble Consists of Chafing Dish and Cover, Stand and Lamp, Hotw Water Pan, and a Cutlet Dish, if Desired. Made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company. GGA Image ID # 19f71e25d6

The Chafing Dish ever identified with the progressive phase of life that appeared in America in 1720. Having overcome the difficulties incidental upon the making of a new country, the colonists began to appreciate and desire the luxuries and adornments of refined living.

The father of a wealthy bride of the day, who wanted to give his daughter "an exquisite outfit," in the list of household furnishings he ordered from England, included "6 small brass Chafing Dishes, 4 shillings apiece." From which fact may be inferred that the hospitable hostesses of that time were wont to give Chafing Dish parties, as do the entertainers of this enlightened century.

This period of early prosperity was followed by wars and times of such arduous toil and financial stringency that entertaining almost became a lost art.

The Chafing Dish has become as necessary a feature of the elegantly equipped modern household as it was of the luxurious homes of the ancient Greeks and Romans. But now that the nation prospers and life in America shows a fuller expression of beauty, refinement, and artistic development. There is time to consider the ethics of good cooking.

Like all beneficent things, it is not for the rich alone. It ministers in the more or less elegant form to all sorts and conditions of men. It is of infinite convenience to those who nurse the sick and prepare food at irregular hours. It is a boon to the journalist who, after his nightly toil, enjoys a repast in his own home. The busy housewife whose burdens are lightened by one maid calls the Chafing Dish "the woman's friend."

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0570. Capacity: Five Half Pints.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0570. Capacity: Five Half Pints. Ensemble Consists of Chafing Dish and Cover, Stand and Lamp, Hot Water Pan, and a Cutlet Dish, if Desired. Made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company. GGA Image ID # 19f75e1bdb

The mastery of the Chafing Dish is one of the undisputed arts where a man and woman may share equal privileges and triumphs. A man may prove his skill in cooking with it without detracting from his dignity, and a woman can scarcely manipulate it without adding to her charm.

The heroes of Homer prepared their repasts with their own hands and prided themselves on their culinary accomplishments. Ulysses surpassed in lighting a fire and laying a cloth; Pa trocí us drew wine, and Achilles turned the spit. It is, therefore, not only classic, but the highest honor a host can confer upon a guest to prepare food for him with his own hands.

The Chafing Dish not only makes possible the sincerest expression of perfect hospitality, but it seems the valid symbol of good fellowship. It develops a spirit of royal camaraderie. Even a pessimist would be inclined to judge his neighbor by his excellencies and not by his defects, as succulent odors whet the appetite and carry the sweet assurance of coming gustatory joys.

Verily, "a good dish sharpens the wit and softens the heart." Who can measure the beneficent influence of exquisite savors! The Chafing Dish is the culinary center.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0620. Capacity: Five Half Pints.

Plated Chafing Dish No. 0620. Capacity: Five Half Pints. Ensemble Consists of Chafing Dish and Cover, Stand and Lamp, and Hot Water Pan. Made by the Gorham Manufacturing Company. GGA Image ID # 19f768fd39

H. M. Kinsley, One Hundred Recipes for the Chafing Dish, New York: Gorham Manufacturing Company, 1894.

Chafing Dish Filler, Etc.

Chafing Dish Filler, Etc. "With All Appliances and Means to Boot." Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Dainties, 1913. GGA Image ID # 19f76fedfa

Janet McKenzie Hill, Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Dainties, With Fifty Illustration of Original Dishes, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1913.

Chafing-Dish Suppers

In selecting a chafing dish, be sure to see that the burner has a lamp and wick, as they are more economical than the open or padded lamp. Wood alcohol bums satisfactorily and is not expensive; the main thing is to have the lamp always full.

The chafing dish has become so popular that china is made especially for chafing-dish parties. Sets come for Welsh rabbits, and there are also spoons, forks, bowls, receptacles for oil and vinegar, silver cans for holding alcohol, fancy egg-beaters, and strainers.

For safety, always stand the chafing- dish on a tray; close at hand, have another tray or small serving table with every article on it necessary to prepare the meal. Keep the plates hot in the kitchen oven, with toast and crackers ready to bring in when needed.

The secret of success in these suppers is not to attempt too much and to plan every detail beforehand. Never try to serve two hot dishes to be prepared for the same repast.

One will spoil while the other is making, that is, if there is but one cook and one chafing-dish. Wooden spoons are the best to use in making chafing-dish mixtures, as they do not become hot, are noiseless, and do not scratch the pan.

One may prepare a delicious supper entirely upon the chafing dish. Ask three guests to bring their chafing-dishes— have the articles for each one in readiness— the hostess using her dish.

Such affairs are delightfully informal. The four can easily prepare supper for fourteen persons. Of course, when capable, the men are allowed to Assist.

The Chafing Dish Equipment.

The Chafing Dish Equipment. Dame Curtsey's Book of Novel Entertainments for Every Day in the Year, 1916. GGA Image ID # 19f7926279

Ellye Howel Glover, "Dame Curtsey's" Book of Novel Entertainments for Every Day in the Year, 11th Ed, Chicago, A. C. McClurg & Co., 1916.

Chafing Dish Cookery

One of the most delightful and informal entertaining ways is at chafing-dish parties. No garnishing is required in serving a chafing-dish meal, but its invariable accompaniment should be crisp crackers, toast, croûtons, or fresh hot rolls. The chafing dish is especially suitable for light luncheons, Sunday suppers, and midnight spreads.

To successfully manage a chafing-dish meal, a dish with a double pan is preferable. The lower pan is to hold water. This has a two-fold object. It prevents milk and butter sauces from scorching, and it keeps the prepared food hot until ready to serve. When the ingredients are sufficiently cooked, the double pans can be taken from the flame and set aside, while the toast or croûtons or whatever is to be served can be heated on an asbestos mat over the flame. However, a more straightforward method is to have an electric toaster on the table and have one member of the party make toast, another butter it. At the same time, a third gives undivided attention to the contents of the chafing-dish.

Wood alcohol is generally used for the chafing dish unless it has an electric attachment. In using alcohol, one should not fill the lamp too full, and one should place the chafing dish on a metal tray so the table linen would not be injured in case of an accident. Prepare as much as you can beforehand in the kitchen to avoid delaying the cooking. Use wooden spoons if possible; they are noiseless, will not scratch the chafing dish, and will not get too hot to handle.

Cheese and eggs in various styles, mushroom and chicken, and other stews of infinite variety are the most suitable for the chafing-dish meal. Paprika is better for seasoning than ordinary pepper. The simplest way of cooking in a chafing dish is to put in first a generous piece of butter; when it bubbles, add a tablespoonful of flour; when blended, put in milk or water and whatever article you wish to serve. With oysters, mushrooms, or any other food-making liquor, no milk or water will be needed unless desired, and thickening is never necessary unless preferred. Nearly all canned goods, such as salmon, chicken, crab, etc., lend themselves admirably to chafing-dish cookery.

Marion Harris Neil, Ed., Favorite Recipes Cook Book: A Complete Culinary Guide, New York: F. M. Lupton, Publisher, 1917


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