h1

Lurking in the Cupboard #2: Toothpick Holders

October 4, 2012

An occasional post about long-forgotten household gems in my mother’s kitchen

The two swans are finally getting some attention. I hear they can get a bit haughty, so I’m extra careful before I shoot photograph them.

As novelty toothpick holders go, these little beauties are very covetable, but sadly have sat untouched in the china cabinet for many years.  Once regular stars at my parents’ dinner parties, they were for a while surpassed by a newer model – a square ‘80s timber veneer Port Macquarie souvenir, but it too sits abandoned.

Swan-shaped toothpick holders

It used to be perfectly acceptable to wield toothpicks after a meal, one hand over the mouth while the digging and poking took place with the other. They’re said to be the oldest instrument for dental cleaning, with skulls of Neanderthals showing clear signs of having teeth picked with a tool, but if they’re so useful, when was the last time you put toothpicks out for a dinner party? And when did you last see them on a restaurant table?

Every neighbourhood Italian eatery we frequented in Sydney’s inner-west in the ’60s and ’70s set their tables with toothpicks. The Tre Venezie, Moro and Miramare restaurants in Stanmore and (I’m sure) Beppi’s in East Sydney offered them beside the salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar.

Sally Galletto, manager of one of my favourite restaurants – Lucio’s in Paddington – tells me they still have them, but at the waiters’ stations, not on tables.

If the demise of the toothpick as dental accessory is complete, let’s at least pay homage to its other uses. Here’s my Top 10:

.            stabbed through cubed cheese with red pickled onions as 1960s party food

.            decorating a hotel Club Sandwich (topped with curly cellophane)

.            as a fastener for Devils on Horseback and Italian veal involtini

.            holding together a cocktail orange slice and a Maraschino cherry

.            speared through the heart of two green olives in a classic Martini

.            poked vertically on everything in an antipasto platter, creating a mini forest

.            Ray’s (Dustin Hoffman) preferred utensil for eating pancakes in Rain Man

.            as a character nickname in Some Like it Hot: ‘Toothpick Charlie’

.            as a mouth prop for cinema mobsters and cowboys

.            Ryan Gosling chewing one in 2011’s Drive to emulate James Dean              

Have I forgotten any?

But back to the beginning. In case you’re keen to start using toothpicks, I recommend honing your skills with actor/cabaret star Paul Capsis’s chance conversation webisodes ‘Toothpick Etiquette’ 101, 102 and 103.

Related posts on retro household items: 

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/lurking-in-the-cupboard-nutcracker-the-utensil-not-the-ballet-2/

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/lurking-in-the-cupboard-4-metal-food-tins/

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…

 

 
Advertisements

4 comments

  1. Love those swans!
    What about the elegant little purse size toothpick kit.. with the shantung cover?…where are they now?


  2. Indeed. Although I think that the Chinese satin-covered lipstick cases with inbuilt mirror could be a good substitute?


  3. Look at those swans!! I remember the days when there were toothpick holders on every taller as well. It still happens in Italy – when I was at “I Sette Nani” in Sistiana a few months back, I saw my uncle use them (as he always has). I didn’t think of getting a photo of them – though now I wish I had. I hope those swans are now “in the pool room” (which is where they’d be if they were in the movie from some years back, “The Castle”). Stuzzicadenti – great word in Italian too!


  4. Great to hear that toothpicks are still abundant in Italy, maybe here too, but I might have to search the suburbs for the old style family-run restaurants. I love that word ‘stuzzicadenti’ (I forgot to add it in the post).



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: