In aspirant households of the 50s and probably earlier, hot English mustard was the only condiment on the table apart from salt and pepper. If salad was on the menu, you might get matching, silver-topped oil and vinegar bottles on a silver tray. And if you were really, really lucky the lady of the house might have made her own apple jelly, mint sauce or chutney. Middle class households did not buy Branston Pickle, tomato ketchup or salad cream (when these arrived from America after the war), or anything that might have made the food actually edible. (Though in Mrs Beeton’s day, your cook made her own tomato, walnut or mushroom ketchup.)
The mustard was made from mustard powder and served in a mustard pot on a little saucer with a tiny spoon. The latch by the handle levers the lid open, and there is a little slot for the spoon. So simple, a small child could operate it! Did people transfer Colmans or Dijon into the mustard pot – until they thought “What the hell!” and put the jar on the table?
Salt was supplied in a salt cellar on a plate or stand, with its own tiny spoon. You were supposed to put salt in a little pile on the side of your plate (with the spoon), because it was rude to assume that your hostess’s food was inadequately seasoned. In the mid-60s, sets of salt and pepper shakers became fashionable and presumably this piece of etiquette melted away like snow on the desert’s face. Aspirant couples now had sea-salt and black pepper grinders, just like in the Italian restaurants that were so chic at the time. People gave each other sets for Christmas.
Jam was decanted into a glass pot with its own saucer, and ornate spoon. If the jam stayed in its own pot, you used a specialised jam spoon with a kind of latch that hooked over the edge. It was also long enough to reach the bottom. (Now we struggle to scrape out the last of the jam with a too-short teaspoon.)
What I don’t miss about the 50s.