Lurking in the Cupboard #2: Toothpick HoldersOctober 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.
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.
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