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#1
Old 02-15-2005, 07:36 PM
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Please tell me about soup spoons

I have been partially "adopted" by my major professor's family, and have dinner with them frequently. He and his wife were born in Russia in the 1940s, and his wife had--somehow, please don't ask for the details, because it doesn't make sense to me either--an English nanny, who raised her with a lot of highbrow British sort of tendencies.

Every time we have soup with dinner, she proudly brings out the set of silver soup spoons she bought at a flea market in London. They are the size of the serving spoons that come with a standard set of silverware today. One can see similar spoons being used for both soup and cereal in the recent (is it ten years already?) production of Pride and Prejudice; the wife however uses them specifically for soup, not for porridge or compote or anything else--dessert spoons, teaspoons, or tablespoons being used instead.

I brought this up with my parents, once, and they both remembered that, in their childhoods, their mothers had mismatched sets of soup spoons, also the size of serving spoons.

I cannot find any maker of silverware/flatware today that makes these oversized soup spoons. My professor's wife's spoons are antiques, dating to the mid 19th century. Both of my grandmothers (born in the US, in 1913 and 1927 respectively) apparently knew what soup spoons were, and wanted them, but could not find matching sets of them. I have checked out books with photographs of silverware dating from the 14th century to today, and though there are strange things like "egg and marrow" spoons, there is nothing specifically labeled as a soup spoon.

So what's the dope on soup spoons? Why have they given way to the (apparently inadequate) tablespoons we all know and use?
#2
Old 02-16-2005, 03:18 AM
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Formal dinnerware would have included separate utensils for just about every single kind of course or dish; fish knives, butter knives, soup spoons, egg spoons, cake forks, banana forks (OK, I made that last one up, but it wouldn't surprise me).

I'm not an expert on formal dining, but at least part of the reason for all the different silverware would have been that 'soup' wasn't an alternative to some other course in the meal, it was a course in and of itself - you would have a soup spoon because the meal included a soup course - you would have a fish knife because the meal included a fish course - when you'd finished your soup course, the waiter would take away your soup plate and your dirty soup spoon and the remaining silverware at your place setting would be appropriate to the remaining courses of the meal.

Of course, 'common' folks like myself wouldn't have seventeen-course meals at home - we might have soup as a 'starter', or even as a main course, but because the arrangements are simply less elaborate and inclusive, there is less need for distinct types of cutlery; I'm unlikely to be eating porridge and soup at the same sitting, so I can just have a single set of spoons that are suitable for both purposes.
#3
Old 02-16-2005, 08:07 AM
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Thanks for being the only brave soul to reply, but this isn't what I'm talking about. Neither of my grandmothers have ever been rich or served a meal with any courses besides "dinner" and "dessert." But whenever dinner happened to include (or be) dinner, the special soup spoons came out. My professor's wife also seems to think they're a necessary and mundane part of life. She has fish knives, but those are a novelty: soup spoons are simply something a person should have.

By the way, I have collected absence-of-evidence (which, I know, isn't really evidence of absence) that the proliferation of cutlery didn't happen until about the 1880s. Before that, there were knives, forks, spoons... and small spoons used for coffee, tea, or chocolate. I have also come across one "egg and marrow" spoon from the 18th century... must say, I'm not sure that one has survived.
#4
Old 02-16-2005, 08:14 AM
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You don't necessarily have to be rich to have acquired some of the tradition and/or etiquette initiated by the 'upper classes'.
#5
Old 02-16-2005, 08:31 AM
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Speaking of silverware. I guess I was an uncurious youngster because I never wondered about the US nomenclature "tea spoon" and "tablespoon."

Then in 1960 we took a trip to Europe, starting in Scotland where we stayed at a small hotel that served meals. At the noon meal I noticed that the spoons were large, what we would call "tablespoons." And in the afternoon we decided to go to tea and the spoons were small, what we would call "teaspoons" and the light dawned as to where the US names originated.
#6
Old 02-16-2005, 10:36 AM
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Right. The fact that "teaspoon" and "tablespoon" lump their morphemes into single words, while other specialized cutlery doesn't (fruit spoon, fish fork, steak knife) makes me think that the distinction between tiny teaspoons--which fit into the tiny little cups that caffeinated beverages were drunk from--and tablespoons, which for a long time meant "any spoon that goes on the dinner table," is much older than any other kind of distinction.

I guess the real question here is--"tablespoons" historically, it appears, were much larger than they are now. When did they shrink? And for what short period of time was there a distinction between soup spoon and tablespoon?
#7
Old 02-16-2005, 10:49 AM
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I'm not sure if I understand you; soup spoons and dessert spoons are not tablespoons (at least not where I live) - I do have some tablespoons in the cutlery drawer; that is, spoons with the same capacity as the tablespoon measuring cup I use for baking, but these tablespoons are too large to fit in your mouth and would not be used as eating utensils; they are for serving things like peas from a serving dish; perhaps in that sense (and I'm guessing here), the etymology is derived from the spoons being used for serving dishes at the table, rather than part of a place setting.
#8
Old 02-16-2005, 11:34 AM
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Hmmm. Looks like we've run into an interesting dialectal phenomenon. Actually, are you in the US? If so, by "tablespoon" I mean the larger of the two spoons in a standard five-piece place setting. The teaspoon is the smaller. A set of silverware will come with a serving set that includes a serving spoon, which is quite large. The "soup spoons" I am after are nearly the size of a serving spoon, certainly too large to fit in a person's mouth, and one is supposed to sip the soup off the side of them. The tablespoon, as I intend it, can easily fit in a person's mouth.

What I appear to be asking about is, when did this "tablespoon" that is, in size, somewhere between a "teaspoon" and a "soup spoon" emerge, and what purpose is it supposed to serve?

I wonder if the difference between the large soup spoon and the smaller tablespoon has something to do with soup being chunky or smooth. If the soup doesn't have any chunks of things in it, then one can use a large soup spoon and sip the soup out of it. If the soup has chunks of things in it, though, the large soup spoon becomes a problem, because one can't sip the chunks.

Hmmmm. Were British soups historically smooth? Bouillon, cream-of, etc?
#9
Old 02-16-2005, 11:46 AM
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I just bought a new set of tableware that came with a set of soup spoons. Mine are about the same size as the large spoons for the table setting (what I would call tablespoons) but the bowl is much rounder and a bit deeper. This is a spoon for clear broth soups where you sip from the side. For other soups I would just use the tablespoons.

I think one bit of confusion in this thread may be that in many homes, teaspoons are used in the everyday table setting instead of the tablespoons. I had a BIL that refused to believe tablespoons were intended for the table because he thought they were way too large to eat with.
#10
Old 02-16-2005, 11:56 AM
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Yeah. Okay, to stop confusing each other, can we do a little ethnographic work? I'm going to set down my silverware standards, and be scientific about it--I'll even use centimeters to measure the lengths of the pieces (oooh, scientific).

Setting: United States, Midwest, upper middle class, small city, and I am 24 years old. Silverware, for me, is as follows.

Standard five-piece place setting:
*Tablespoon 19cm
*Teaspoon 16cm
*Dinner fork 20cm
*Salad fork 16cm
*Dinner knife 23cm may be unserrated, or with small serrations

Standard six-piece serving set:
*Serving spoon 21cm
*Slotted serving spoon 21cm
*Serving fork 21cm
*Sauce ladel 19cm
*Sugar spoon 16cm
*Butter knife 18cm

Other available pieces:
*Steak knife 24cm with heavy serrations
*Grapefruit spoon 16cm with serrated tip
*Demitasse spoon 10cm
*Cream soup or gumbo spoon 19cm with a circular bowl
*Butter spreader 14cm

Mythical pieces, not available for purchase:
*Fish knives and forks
*Dessert knives and spoons
*Large soup spoons
*Ice cream forks
#11
Old 02-16-2005, 12:05 PM
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Teaspoon: a small spoon for stirring tea; holds about 5 ml.

Tablespoon: a large spoon for serving food; holds about 15 ml.

Soupspoon (yes, one word): a round-bowled spoon, somewhat larger than a teaspoon, for eating soup.

Spoon: one of those things that came with your Oneidaware. They're more oval than a soup spoon, bigger than a teaspoon, and smaller than a tablespoon.

Sattua, if those soupspoons are really the size of a tablespoon, I can understand your confusion; some makers just have no idea what an appropriate size for a spoon is. A soupsoon should be the same size as the spoons in your cutlery set, although it's really meant for sipping from, so size shouldn't matter.
#12
Old 02-16-2005, 12:57 PM
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I am extremely confused here. I never use a teaspoon for eating. That think is tiny. I use it only to put sugar in coffee or tea. I always eat with a tablespoon. I can't imaging trying to eat milk-and-cereal with a teaspoon -- You'd hardly get anything onto the spoon. I serve with serving spoons, which are substantially larger than tablespoons.
#13
Old 02-16-2005, 01:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sattua
Hmmm. Looks like we've run into an interesting dialectal phenomenon. Actually, are you in the US? If so, by "tablespoon" I mean the larger of the two spoons in a standard five-piece place setting.
I'm in the UK; as far as I'm aware, a tablespoon is used for serving vegetables etc from dishes to plates, and for measuring ingredients in baking.

Quote:
Hmmmm. Were British soups historically smooth? Bouillon, cream-of, etc?
Most probably; soup is smooth, [i]stew[i] is lumpy (broadly speaking).
#14
Old 02-16-2005, 01:57 PM
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I'm beginning to get the idea that there is not such thing as "The Straight Dope" regading spoons.
#15
Old 02-16-2005, 01:58 PM
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Let's clear this up. From the Web site of the aforementioned Oneida --

http://oneida.com/home/ONDAPatte...5-2-16-15-6-32

This is the standard five-piece place setting -- all the items are for eating, not for serving. From left to right: salad fork, dinner fork, knife, tablespoon, and teaspoon. The tablespoon is used for soups and general eating. The teaspoon is used for desserts and for stirring sugar into the post-dinner coffee or tea.

So can the Brits here give us a pictorial example of one of their tablespoons, used for serving?

Back to the OP, as I interpret the question, the poster has not been able to find documentary evidence that a "soup spoon" was a distinct, discrete, separate, specialized item of flatware that was purchased qua "soup spoon" and not just as a regular "tablespoon." This is contrary to the anecdotal evidence from elder relatives who always longed to own a set of soup spoons but were never able to acquire them (perhaps because soup spoons qua "soup spoons" did not exist?). Have I got that right?
#16
Old 02-16-2005, 02:07 PM
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More Science

Okay. In the United States, when one is cooking and baking, one uses a special set of measuring spoons. One of these is the "teaspoon" measure, which I will abbreviate "t" to minimize confusion in what follows. Another is the "tablespoon" measure, abbreviated "T".

My standard American teaspoon held more than a t of liquid. My standard American serving spoon held exactly one T of liquid. My standard American tablespoon held an amount somewhere in-between, probably closer to a t than to a T.

BTW, I was looking around on Replacementsltd.com, and whaddaya know, they use the term "tablespoon" for what I call a serving spoon--just like some of you have said. acsenray on the other hand seems to speak my dialect, WRT spoons. And yes, your interpretation of my question is correct.

What Nametag is calling a soup spoon has a round bowl. I call this a cream soup spoon, or a gumbo spoon. It is *not* the soup spoon I am asking about.
#17
Old 02-16-2005, 02:25 PM
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Quote:
What Nametag is calling a soup spoon has a round bowl. I call this a cream soup spoon, or a gumbo spoon. It is *not* the soup spoon I am asking about.
Wow, more and more complications ... Whenever I'm served soup at a hotel (usually during some kind of trade association conference), I'm always given one of thouse circular spoons, regardless of the type of soup, broth, or stew that's being offered. I always thought that that was the "soup spoon."
#18
Old 02-16-2005, 02:33 PM
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Crate and Barrel has a thirteen-piece set: http://crateandbarrel.com/itemgroups/12890_0.asp

Unfortunately, their legend only lists eleven pieces, so it doesn't quite match the picture. The two largest spoons in the middle are what I'd call tablespoons. [Hmmm, seems there's are difference between "American table spoons" and "European table spoons".] The two smaller spoons to the right of those are teaspoons (aka "tea spoon" and "coffee spoon"). Then there's the long-handled "iced tea spoon". To the right of that (with the round bowl) is the soup spoon. Finally, there's the "espresso spoon".

The matching serving spoon would be even larger than the tablespoons:
http://crateandbarrel.com/itemgroups/13187_0.asp
#19
Old 02-16-2005, 02:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sattua
What Nametag is calling a soup spoon has a round bowl. I call this a cream soup spoon, or a gumbo spoon. It is *not* the soup spoon I am asking about.
If you look more closely at that Replacements Ltd. site, you'll see that a cream soup spoon or a gumbo spoon is significantly larger than a soup spoon, and neither is round.
#20
Old 02-16-2005, 02:44 PM
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Ooooooooh, lookie at what I found:

Arthur Price: British silverware

Now look at THIS. A standard seven-piece setting has Table Knife, Table Fork, Dessert Spoon, Soup Spoon, Dessert Knife, Dessert Fork, Tea Spoon. In addition to this, one can order fish knives and forks, and coffee spoons.

Soup spoon! From a British company.

The Crate & Barrel link looks to me like the standard run of American silveware, with no "dessert" anything and no "fish" anything. I forgot to list the long-handled iced tea spoons, earlier. One sees those, also. Please notice the "European table spoon," which is 8" long.
#21
Old 02-16-2005, 02:58 PM
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Some more Googling leads me to this British site:

Here's a soup spoon, 8" long. Note shape of bowl.
Here are serving spoons, also 8" long.
Here's an entire 8-piece set, including cake fork and fish fork. That large spoon there is what I'd call a tablespoon, but they're obviously calling a soup spoon.
#22
Old 02-16-2005, 03:17 PM
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Looking at that Replacements site:

On this page is listed a "place spoon". It notes that many people call these "tablespoons", and that's what I'd call it as well. The next page has a "tablespoon", which they note is used for serving vegetables; this is what I'd call a "serving spoon". The "teaspoon" is smaller than either of these, and it's pretty much as described on the first page. A "soup spoon" is what I'd call the "bouillon", "cream soup", or "gumbo" spoons.
#23
Old 02-16-2005, 03:36 PM
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I think the trouble is that today's flatware categories are too simplified to account accurately for the bewildering variety of silverware that they had in the 19th century.

Nowadays, according to Miss Manners, the standard "tablespoon" or "place spoon" of the typical commercial flatware place setting is correct for all soups and spooned desserts, plus morning cereal as well. As acsenray notes, a teaspoon is not standard for those purposes and is used only for stirring coffee or tea (although if you personally prefer to eat soup or stew or cereal with a teaspoon, I'm certainly not going to argue with you).

But back in the day, things were different. As has been pointed out, there were different types of spoons intended for different types of soup. According to this flatware identification guide, bouillon spoons, cream soup spoons, and gumbo spoons are all round-bowled spoons of different sizes. (That Replacements site actually describes them all as round-bowled, but the accompanying visuals are a little misleading.)

You can see actual photographs of soup spoon varieties including all the round spoons, along with an "Oval Soup Spoon" (which I bet is what the OP's friends have) and a standard "Place Spoon" (somewhat smaller).

My guess is that the large oval soup spoons like the ones the OP is talking about were the standard soup spoons for clear soups (not bouillon served in bouillon cups with small round-bowled bouillon spoons, though). As time passed, their soup-eating function was assimilated by the slightly smaller, more versatile "place spoon" (now also called a "tablespoon" to confuse the British, who think a "tablespoon" is a serving spoon and a "soup spoon" is a place spoon).

However, some people still considered it classy or fun to have the old-fashioned large oval soup spoons, even if they had to get ones in a different pattern from the rest of their flatware. My mother still has a few "big soup spoons" left over from my grandmother's silverware.

I think the major lesson to be learned here is that flatware technical terminology is desperately in need of standardization.
#24
Old 02-16-2005, 03:37 PM
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Wow. That list of flatware *is* intimidating, isn't it.

I am still grumpy about my nonexistent large soup spoons, I think.
#25
Old 02-16-2005, 04:25 PM
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Spoooooon!

(Not in the face! Not in the face!)
#26
Old 02-18-2005, 10:27 AM
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Brit here .....

In the UK the typical, everyday place setting will be a knife, fork, teaspoon, dessert spoon, shovel and chopsticks (OK, I lied about the last two).

A teaspoon is only used for adding sugar to / stirring drinks or taking medicine.

A dessert spoon holds 2 teaspoons, and is used for desserts / cereal / soup (unless, like me, you have round-bowled soup spoons for show).

A tablespoon holds 4 teaspoons and is used solely for serving.

A serving spoon is a large tablespoon.

Hope this helps.
#27
Old 02-18-2005, 11:13 AM
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Klingon Teaspoon

Or perhaps it's for eating qagh...
#28
Old 02-18-2005, 01:22 PM
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I like rusty spoons ...
#29
Old 02-19-2005, 03:37 PM
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All right. Now I can't live without a set of Klingon teaspoons.

Shrinking Violet, can you say anything about soup spoons?
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