Last Updated: Jun 09, 2021     Views: 17

A glass salver set with white and red wine syllabubs in characteristic glasses can be seen behind the revelers in this painting. Image: The Sense of Taste. Philippe Mercier (1689 or 1691-1760). 1744 to 1747. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection B1974.3.18

During the 18th and 19th centuries elaborate dessert arrangements were a feature of formal dining within elite and, increasingly, wealthy middle class households.  Glass, gilded silver or silver salvers (trays) could be stacked into pyramids and loaded with desserts, while sweetmeat trees balanced glass or silver baskets from graceful arms, and custards and jellies sparkled in cut glass dishes and cups.

Glassware and tableware were designed to showcase these delicacies within dainty stemmed dishes, handled cups, and other new designs of glass vessels.  The glass was cut and faceted to reflect candlelight like the sparkling diamonds and jewelry worn by the diners.

An 18th-Century Dessert Menu

This dessert menu recorded by Lady Grisell Baillie in her extensive journals and published as Lady Grisell Baillie's Household Book 1692-1733 offers glimpses into what would be served at a typical dessert and how it might be presented.  

Deseart: 9 all on guilt cornered salvers, low feet; midle, with one row glass salvers with half inch broad brims with franch plumb, Apricoks, fruts dry, Almond bisket and Ratafia. 8 in all, and wafers put in betwixt them, a salver above that w 4 frute jellys and wet sweatmeats, with covers, and betwixt them high glasses, white confits on the top, a scolloped glass cornered brim.

2 ends bottom row, Jelly harts horn and limon and ratafia cream, a salver on top with the same cornered brimd glasses as in the middle.

2 sids 1st. row, Aples in sawcers and frensh figs and plumbs, the last pistasche nuts on one and aples in cyrop in the other, the same cornerd brimd glasses as the rest, the 4 corners, 2 slist oranges and 2 almonds and resins, in glass broad cream bowls.  (p. 298)

She describes stacked salvers (footed glass or silver trays) loaded with dried and fresh fruit, nuts, comfits (candied aromatics or nuts), fruit jellies and other desserts in scalloped or covered glasses. 

Types of dessert glasses

The deserts mentioned in Lady Grisell Baillie's ledgers would be presented in various ways.  Dried fruits and nuts would likely be served in a different style glass than a syllabub or jelly.  Common types of dessert glasses were: 

  • Sweetmeat glasses
    • Small ornate glasses often on stems which held both wet or dry desserts.  They could hold stewed fruits, dried fruits, nuts, etc. 
    • Often designed with a small foot and sturdy rim so they could be presented in tightly packed in arrangements and would not be damaged when lifted from the arrangement. 
  • Jelly glasses
    • Petite glasses designed to hold colorful fruit jellies set with gelatin derived from horns or fish. 
  • Syllabub glasses
    • Syllabub was a layered dessert made of fortified wine, cream, and aromatics like rosemary sprigs or lemon peel. The wine and cream were mixed with an acid-like lemon juice causing the cream to separate and set, or an airy froth similar to whipped cream or mousse would be spooned over a layer of sweetened wine. Some syllabub glasses resemble mugs with spouts which were used like a straw to drink the bottom layer of wine before spooning the set cream from the top of the dessert. Others had a pan-top which was wider than the base and would support the cream layer and encourage clean layering of the dessert.
  • Custard cups
    • Resembled small tea or punch cups with thick sturdy rims.  
    • Used to serve custards and fashionable cold desserts like ices and ice creams. 

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