The Date – 1920. The man behind the invention – John Didio owner of both Didio Bros. Cut Glass Co. and the Buffalo Knife Co. Inc. The invention – Glass Knives.
After all if you drop a glass knife it’s shards to you. To understand the history you have to know a bit about knives. Back in 1920 kitchen knives were being made from carbon steel – that meant one thing – they would rust especially if you were cutting acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus.
It must have been an “a ha” moment when John Didio thought of basically combining his two businesses. Definitely a Two for One inspiration. Do you suppose it was because his wife complained so much about her kitchen knives or maybe he didn’t like the metallic taste the knives left on his fruit.
A Bit of Glass Knife History
I have a friend who collects glass knives but more importantly I know a member of John Didio’s family. It’s always good to go to the source. Although classed as part of Depression glass E.S. Pease, Didio’s partner in the knife company applied for the original patent in1920 with Didio as a witness. Those early knives were plain, clear and marked BK Co. 1920 in raised letters. Find one at a yard sale, especially with a box, and you have found a rare treasure. Try to be calm as you dismissively say “this old thing – I can’t imagine it’s worth more than a couple of bucks.” Do not let out a scream of joy until are back in your car and at least a block away.
If you’re a steak lover by this point you’re thinking “ A glass knife; what a stupid idea!” But you weren’t the intended buyer. The lady of the house was and what the lady wanted was elegance, glamour. She wanted something that was functional yet showed her friends how modern she was. Another Two for One for the glass knife was that not only was it perfect for cutting angel food cake at a tea it was also the perfect gift at a wedding shower.
In addition to being impervious to citrus the knives were also said to slide effortlessly through meringues, cakes and Jell-O. Yes Jell-O! Don’t you always cut your Jell-O with a knife? I don’t but you may have different culinary habits.
By 1938 the knives were being sold by pitchmen at the World’s Fair under the name DUR-X and other companies took notice. You can find knives by Vitex, Steelite and Cryst-o-lite. The knives were so popular that at one point Didio wore out his molds and came up with a new handle design.
What Became of Glass Knives
Surprisingly to me is that the glass knife fad lasted for so long. The knives were produced through the country’s Art Deco mood, The Great Depression, WWII, and the beginning of the Baby Boomer generation; all the way into the 60s. By the 60s the knives, now smaller, made of clear glass with 3 daisies on the handle came in a box marked Didio Bros.
It has been frustrating the last few years not to have money to spend on frivolous items which brings up the final reason I like the glass knives. They‘re still available and unless you’re really clumsy can still be used. If you’re interested in having a piece of history a glass knife is a great item to start collecting. The knives are available in the standard clear glass but also amber, blue, green, pink and white. Several years ago you’d need to pay $50 for a knife and box (boxes are more valuable than the knives) but today the price has dropped considerably. The ones I have seen have been around $10. I’m sure the prices will go up one day but since I don’t collect to make money that’s not important to me. I enjoy being able to hold a beautiful piece of American history in my hand.
I have a glass knife. I made a point to purchase it even though it has chips on the cutting edge. Originally I figured I’d just keep it as an oddity but one day I decided to try it out. Chips and all it cut just fine. Does this mean I now have to issue you an invitation to a tea? I think not.
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The oddest things can bring laughter to my life. I just finished reading a book first published in 1835. It’s a small volume, Georgia Scenes by Augustus Baldwin Longstreet.
If you’re a true Southerner you’ll recognize the author’s name. Longstreet was President of four Southern institutions of higher learning starting in 1839 at Emory College when it was still located in Oxford, Georgia. From Emory Longstreet spent years at Centenary College in Louisiana, The University of Mississippi and South Carolina College. Can you guess which side he was on during the Civil War? Yes it was the South but his small book isn’t about that period. Georgia Scenes is a compilation of characters, incidents and scenes from the first half century of the Republic.
Food from Georgia Scenes
In various stories his characters seek out an oyster house hidden upstairs in a Savannah house, attend a county fair with quite a bit of “punch” being drunk even by the ladies and attend a newlywed couples disastrous dinner party. The dinner consisted or “ two-pale-blue, dry, boiled fowls; boiled almost to dismemberment, upon a dish large enough to contain a goodly sized shote…a prodigious roast turkey, upon a dish that was almost concealed by its contents…the back and sides burned to a crisp, and the breast raw.” Next to be served was a ”burned round of beef and a raw leg of mutton.” FYI: The marriage did not survive.
In another story Longstreet tells of an afternoon tea when I certain Miss Aurelia Emma Theodosia Augusta Crump was entreated to play the piano for the group. Longstreet’s description cannot be improved on. Since Longstreet didn’t fill in the details of what was served at this tea I am making my suggestions. In the spirit of the occasion as you read I would suggest you improvise an afternoon party with my favorites: Diet Coke and something from the Publix Bakery; two true Southern treats, even if they weren’t available around 1790.
Piano Music for Tea
“She seated herself at the piano, rocked to the right, then to the left, leaned forward, then backward, and began. She placed her right hand about midway the keys and her left about two octaves below it. She now put off to the right in a brisk canter up the treble notes and the left after it. The left then led the way back, and the right pursued it in like manner. The right turned, and repeated its first movement; but the left outran it this time, hopped over it, and flung it entirely off the track. It came in again, however, behind the left on its return, and passed it in the same style. They now became highly incensed at each other, and met furiously on the middle ground. Here a most awful conflict ensued for about the space of ten seconds, when the right whipped off all of a sudden, as I thought, fairly vanquished.
But I was in the error against which Jack Randolph cautions us; “It had only fallen back to a stronger position.” It mounted upon two black keys and commenced the note of a rattlesnake. This had a wonderful effect upon the left, and placed the doctrine of “snake charming” beyond dispute. The left rushed furiously towards it repeatedly, but seemed invariably panic-struck when it came within six keys of it, and as invariably retired with a tremendous roaring down the bass keys. It continued its assaults, sometimes by the way of the naturals, sometimes by the way of the sharps, and sometimes by a zigzag through both; but all its attempts to dislodge the right from tis stronghold proving ineffectual, it came close up to its adversary and expired.”
Victor Borge could not have done better – and so I retire to enjoy my Diet Coke and desserts.
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It’s time to experiment – time to shake the jarred spaghetti sauce off the taste buds. Time for Juniper. That sounds so positive yet I haven’t yet tried to the Juniper Berries I bought this weekend. While at the farmers market my husband asked me to buy some ordinary spices. Once confronted with a barrage of spices at the spice wall I panicked. I had no idea what most of the spices were or how I would ever use them. Still my life needs more than salt, pepper and garlic so I closed my eyes, spun around three times and grabbed Juniper Berries. Now it’s time to learn about them.
My total knowledge is that they’re the flavor in gin. That’s a bit disturbing because I don’t really like gin. Oh well – onward.
First a caveat. As I was researching Juniper Berries a couple of sites do say that they should not be eaten by young children, the elderly, pregnant women, women who are breastfeeding or people with kidney problems. ‘nuff said – proceed with caution.
A Bit of Juniper Folklore
On the upside side, during the Middle Ages, Juniper, even just the scent, was thought to ward off the plague and not just plague but witches and other evil spirits as well. I’m not sure when I’ll need to ward off the plague but I now have a supply of the berries around just in case. I may know a few witches, but that’s a discussion for another blog.
Herbal remedies were the medicine of the Middle Ages and Juniper was right in the mix – fighting urinary tract problems, gallstones and there was even a remedy for gout. Those folk were just as meddlesome in the 1500s as we are today; never able to leave well enough alone. Since the Juniper was already being used for urinary problems a Dutch pharmacist had the idea of creating a diuretic drink. He called it gin. At this point my brain has a mental image of a gypsy wagon and self-professed medicine man traveling the countryside with his latest cure for snake bites…no no wait – for whatever ails you. Gin as medicine, as bad as gin tastes I should have realized the connection sooner than I did.
As a spice Juniper is the only one derived from conifers; it’s a female seed cone. Now my mental image switches to the Grape Nuts ads from the 70s with Naturalist Euell Gibbons munching on a pine tree.
Common Juniper Berry Uses in Cooking
I did find the reason I don’t typically cook with Juniper Berries. Besides gin, Juniper is mainly used in northern European cooking especially in strongly flavored meat dishes such as wild birds and game meats. To go along with those game meats you’ll also find Juniper flavoring cabbage and sauerkraut.
Since I have the berries and with no plague epidemic in sight I’ve been on the lookout for a recipe I can make. Using the same method as I did when I found the berries on the spice rack I closed my eyes and picked a random recipe.
1 Young Rabbit, jointed – If the neighbors should see me crawling through the garden wearing a pith helmet and carrying a shotgun I mean them no harm it’s just so I can test this recipe.
4 oz. Mushrooms, chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
1 tsp. each: Chopped Parsley and Chopped Chives
4 Juniper Berries, crushed (do this at the last-minute because they quickly lose their aroma)
2 tbsp. Oil
1 tbsp. Gin
Salt and Black Pepper
1. Make deep incisions in each piece with the tip of a sharp knife
2. Place chopped mushrooms atop the rabbit pieces
3. In a bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients until well blended. Pour over the rabbit. Coat thoroughly then marinate for 2 hours, turning the pieces from time to time.
4. Bake until cooked through, turning from time to time; basting with the remaining marinade. Serve hot. The recipe was cooking over coals – I’m guessing about a 350 degree oven will work – check after 15-20 minutes.
A Final Thought
I may have to rethink my distaste for gin since I discovered some people consider it a remedy for arthritis. I see more Juniper Berry experimentation in my future.
What’s been your most successful food experiment? Let us all know in the comments section below.
Actually I don’t particularly like champagne. It’s the aura champagne evokes that I love. I know the preferred drink of American’s is beer and wine. But there was a time when champagne was queen. It was a time of gangsters, molls, satin dresses that hung to shapeless female forms, jewels and furs. It was the 30s. Even though some members of my family will swear that I was roaming the earth with the dinosaurs I’m actually not quite that old. I wasn’t around for the heyday of champagne and speakeasies, not even as a baby, but I, like almost everyone else alive today, “know” about those times from the movies. When it comes down to it – it’s all about persona, about appearance.
The Non-Movie Addict
If it wasn’t for TCM (Turner Class Movies) I could have basic television – or no television at all because I do have a library card and I know how to use it. You’re shaking your head and about to say Netflix or other computer generated way to download movies. The problem is I’m not a film fanatic – I don’t know the classic movies or even the B and C grade movies. You won’t find me at the midnight showing of some important film noir. All the black and white films I now enjoy are because I stumbled across them on TCM. Since they’re black and white that means early film years which means they were serving champagne by the gallons to lithe young women and tuxedo clad men.
A Short Guide to Move Alcohol Use
In case the clothes weren’t enough of a clue here’s a hint – gangsters drank beer, cowboys had shots or an occasional swig and beautiful people sipped champagne. They swirled champagne served in delicate glasses from breakfast through dinner and late into the night. And of course they were svelte. Svelte is something I am not, nor can I even aspire to be because slender and lithe and those words are not part of my bodies vocabulary. Svelte usually implies tall as in the svelte model was 6 foot tall and was considered overweight at 100 pounds. Svelte is not just a hair taller than 5 feet.
It’s so seductive – glamorous settings, bedrooms bigger than my house, grand staircases everywhere, chauffeur driven cars, not to mention Myrna Loy and William Powell. Naturally in the ultimate chick flick An Affair to Remember (or the 1939 version Love Affair) the pink champagne in the ocean liners bar encourages Nickie and Terry’s romance.
Technically champagne has to come from France and even though we Americans had been producing wine for some time our wine heyday didn’t arrive until the mid-1970s so I’m assuming what the movie stars were drinking was real champagne.
Champagne and Me
Since I am not a connoisseur come News Year’s Eve I’ll be drinking sparkling wine and incorrectly calling it champagne. To be truthful there is one way I like champagne; the ever popular Mimosa. Orange Juice and champagne, a healthful drink, or at least I want to think that. I’d think more deeply about that thought but after two Mimosas I’m fast asleep, cradled in the arms of Gary Grant.
What kind of movie drinker are you? Champagne, a shot of whiskey, beer or what about “shaken not stirred.”
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