“Worth Its Salt” by Melanie Schertz

“Worth Its Salt” by Melanie Schertz

MelSchertzHello, Everyone. My name is Melanie Schertz, and this is my first post on Austen Authors.  I am coming up on my 3rd anniversary for posting my first story, on AHA, so you can see, I am still a newbie in the field.  It also marks my 10th “birthday” of being an Austen Addict. Thanks go out to all the amazing authors here who have been willing to help me learn and grow in my work.  Finding people who are willing to help one another is truly a blessing.

I have been working on my newest book, which will hopefully be on Amazon by the end of the week.  It is titled On the Road to Ramsgate.  My editor said that it was one of her favorites, so I hope it will be one that everyone likes.

For those of you who have read my stories, you are aware that I write in the time period of the late 1700’s to early 1800’s.  I have thought about writing a modern story, but, for some reason, I just cannot manage such a story.  But perhaps there is a reason.

I grew up in a small farming community in central Illinois.  My grandparents and parents were wonderful and a huge part of my life, teaching me so many of my values and beliefs.

netherfield park quarantined iconOne of the things I learned about from my grandparents were antiques.  My brothers and I grew up with antiques all around us, and even played with some of them.  I remember, as a child, playing with the butter churn, the old crank phone, the coffee grinder and more.

http://ancientpoint.com/ inf/1002751800__s_ antique_blue_painted_ wooden_primitive_butter_churn.html  1800 ' S Antique Blue Painted Wooden Primitive Butter Churn
1800s Antique Blue Painted Wooden Primitive Butter Churn

We had antique dishes, butter molds, hat pins, old books (including primers, a first edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and more), invalid feeders (the photo on the front on Netherfield Park Quarantined is some of my mother’s collection of invalid feeders), and we even have the old purse and clay pipe my great, great grandmother used to smoke. In a way, I grew up playing in another century, so that might be a reason for me to write in that era.

Perhaps now that you know something of my background, you will permit to share a bit of information, of which many may not think when considering a formal dinner at Pemberley or the Darcy townhouse in London.

A very rare crystal salt cellar — of silver form with three lion heads and foot legs. English ca 1720.
A very rare crystal salt cellar — of silver form with three lion heads and foot legs. English ca 1720. 47 mm high.

One of the items I collected with my grandmother were salt dips.  Salt dips were made from any number of things, from glass, porcelain, metal, and even wood. Salt did not have an anti-caking agent in it during that time, so it could not pour from a shaker.  Rather than having a salt shaker, there was a “master dip”. The “master dip” remained still and was used to restock the smaller salt dips. Some call the dishes salt cellars. Each place setting had a salt dip, and, beginning in the 1600’s, there was usually a very tiny spoon of metal or glass, which was used to distribute the salt on the plate/food.  The person could either use the spoon to spread the salt, or food items could be dipped into the salt in the dish.

As most people have never heard of them, the salt dips and master salt dips are usually sold as other items, small candy dishes or unknown dishes.  The use of salt dips, or salt cellars, dates back to classical Rome, and were used until free flowing salt, which contain anticaking ingredients, became available.

I have over 200 dips, in many shapes and sizes.  I have some shaped as flowers, elegantly painted scenes, cut glass, shaped as miniature brandy snifters, and even some shaped as logs hollowed out, as well as animals.  Some are elegant, and some are extremely… unique. But they are a piece of history, which keeps me in touch with the past, along with the many conversations I shared with my Grandma.  So, now when you imagine the formal table setting, with the elegant dishes, you can envision the cut glass or elegantly painted ceramic salt dishes on the table.

37 Responses to “Worth Its Salt” by Melanie Schertz

  1. I love learning things about these “common” items that we are clueless about! When I read invalid feeder, my brain went to no longer valid feeder. What? LOL That’s really a brilliant solution! My grandmother had a set of 4 salt cellars that were white ceramic with little silver spoons. My family was never well to do so I’m guessing that’s why there were four and they were very plain. Though they did have silver spoons. I have no idea what happened to them after her death. I have one of my own that is wooden with a little ceramic spoon that I use with some of the more expensive coarse sea salts that I use occasionally. Just cool stuff!!

  2. I’m so behind on reading this week! I can’t believe how much you’ve written in only 3 years! My in-laws are huge antique collectors but I don’t think I’ve seen a salt dip in their collection before. It was so neat to see some of yours!

  3. My parents had some salt cellars when I was growing up. (We also collected antiques.) Thanks for explaining how they were used. I never knew all of this. I’ve also never seen or heard of invalid feeders.

  4. This was great, Melanie! We actually still use salt cellars in my family. Much better for fancy sea salts than a shaker. More control, too! I do not have nearly as many as you do, but mine all came down from my grandmother, too. I saw your pictures on Facebook. Inspired to share some of my own! I loved playing with family antiques when I grew up. Now I own most of my favorites. They help make history concrete and definitely influenced my tastes and interests. Thanks for sharing this.

    • That is even more precious, having them handed down through the family and still being used. I think I have one style that I have 4 of, but the rest are singles or doubles. Thanks Alexa.

  5. Thanks for sharing, I’d never heard of a salt dip before. I want to investigate my grandmother’s antique glassware in her hutch now. I know that it has been in her family for several generations, but I doubt they were ever of a class that would have something so fancy. Congrats with another new release coming out, you sure have been very busy over the last 3 years. I haven’t had a change to read all your books yet, but will say that With Pen in Hand is my favorite.

  6. How neat! I wasn’t really familiar with salt dips. I need to ask my mom if she has any, as her house is loaded with antiques. I remember reading about the invalid feeders in Netherfield Park Quarantined but I wasn’t sure at that time what one might look like.

    Thanks for sharing with us! 🙂

  7. Great personal history. Did you have a Hoosier cabinet in your home growing up? Things I got rid of that my mother had after she passed away at almost 96 years of age, my daughters now go antiquing and started their own collections. One collects depression cookie jars and the other collects hammered aluminum trays,etc. I started a collection of Nutting photographs. Looking back is great fun.

    • It is fun. We have a pie safe that is huge, with 3 shelves and the walls and doors of it have the tin type metal with the holes poked in designs. That allowed the air to circulate while the pies and breads cooled, yet kept the bugs away.

  8. What fascinating information you’ve shared! I too was only vaguely familiar with salt dips, understanding the purpose, but having no idea exactly how they were used or what they might look like. Of course, the part of me that gets the “I wanty-wants” must now possess one! (Next stop, eBay!)

    My first thought when I saw the photo of the invalid feeders completely illustrates the point of how we might mistake what something actually is. The reference to salt in the blog title and the text on the cover image reinforced my first impression and I thought to myself “I had no idea they used Neti-pots back then!” Now that I know what they really are, I’m chagrined that I didn’t know that! At least I can say that my “you learn something new every day” has been taken care of for today.

    • Some of the invalid feeders had the handles on the sides rather than the ones shown. It is fun to learn and I know what the “I want” is like. I have found the salt dips on ebay.

  9. I LOVE history, especially the little known or weird things. This was a semi-new one for me. I have seen the phrase “salt dip” but hadn’t investigated further. Thanks for the enlightenment!

    It is always strange to me how many of the simple facts of life we take for granted — such as salt in a shaker — that didn’t exist in the not-so-distant past. Remarkable! And a challenge when writing a historical novel. Now I am racking my brain for if I ever had Darcy or some other character shake salt onto something. Yikes!!

    🙂 Great first post, Melanie. We are delighted to have you with us.

  10. I will have to see if I have any salt dips around the house. I have antiques everywhere. Many still in every day use. Some were handed down from my husband’s family (my fatherinlaw had a repair/refinish antique business) I married and took to antiques like a duck to water. I have many collections and my favorite thing to do is go antiquing. My dream is a bigger house…there are some things I want to bring home that just won’t fit.Lol. I think it all goes well with my love of the JaneAusten era. You can bet I will be keeping my eye out for salt dips now. What a wonderful connection with your grandmother. Lovely post. I will keep my eye out for your new book.

    • I can remember stories connected with many of the antiques we have had passed down in the family. It is fun to have these as a part of my life, as you must feel, still using them regularly.

  11. Very interesting information about salt dips, Mel! I love anything antique and I remember many of the things you mentioned from my own grandparents house. In fact, if they had not let my brother destroy two items when he was a boy–a antique sewing machine and crank phone–I would have loved to own them. Alas, at that period of time they were just ‘junk’ in the attic. It literally makes me sick to think of them now. Please do tell where you find all your salt dips? Flea markets and fairs, or yard sales.

  12. Hey Melanie! Your “salt dip” information is fascinating! Though I’m not into antiques as a collector, I absolutely love old things. My favorites being quilts. I would love to see more pictures of your collection. Thanks! Jen Red

    • I will get them out, now that I have a safe place to put them (furry children can be destructive). When I do, I will show more photos. We have some of my great great grandmother’s quilts. Love them.

  13. Melanie, that was wonderfully informing. I was aware of salt dishes but not to the extent or the history of them. I think it’s cool and like the idea of having my own personal salt dip. Thank you so much for the info and looking forward to more. Also I haven’t gotten around to reading your books but I’m looking forward to it????

  14. Thank you for sharing your love of history and the history of salt cellars. I unfortunately don’t have any, but remember my grandmother having little glass dishes with spoons that I used with my dolls when I visited her. I never knew what they were, but am certain they were personal salt cellars. Your collection sounds beautiful! I am looking forward to the release of your new book.

    • Thank you. From the sounds of it, they very well could have been salt dips. It is fun to learn the real purpose some items that we have grown up with. I have seen invalid feeders sold as gravy dishes.

  15. Melanie, Thank you for sharing your sweet personal history and your collection. I always thought salt dips were do indicative of the era. I had a set of Russian salt dips, tiny wooden bowls set in silver filigree with tiny silver metal spoons. They gave me great pleasure to set on my table. Good luck with your new book.

Your thoughts are precious!