Sweetmeats and Jellies
Georgian glass sweetmeats, custard cups and jelly
glasses – ranges of tableware intended to enhance the formal nature of the
Georgian dining experience by punctuating each successive course by the
necessity of a whole, new suite of vessels being set before one’s guests. Not
only were the different types of tableware distinct in their own right, but
they were all made in a variety of sizes, shapes and styles to accommodate specific
foodstuffs in turn. Assembling a fully comprehensive dining service towards the
end of the 18th century was not for the faint of heart, or for those
without deep pockets or capacious sideboards…
The term ‘sweetmeats’ is a rather broad title for both the range of glassware and the comestibles it delivered to the table. As a general rule, they were bowl-shaped dishes set on long stems and would be set at table in a position where they could be used communally, rather than serving individual needs. The foodstuffs they were intended to contain were, for the most part, sweet in nature, hence the name - candied and glacé fruits, marzipan, sugar-coated nuts, crystallised ginger, comfits and Turkish delight – all rather exotic fare that demanded serving pieces of a similar nature.
The glass sweetmeats were therefore suitably ornate with spiralling twists to the stem, moulded fruits impressed on to their lipped bowls, engravings, cut or sliced facets and a variety of other fine finishes. They might also be augmented with lids or covers, although – mas you can imagine – now over two hundred years since having been made, complete pieces are uncommon due to parts been broken or mislaid. Given the rather fancy nature of the delights they were intended to contain, sweetmeats were rarely made from coloured glass; their contents would be sufficiently eye catching in its own right as to be best displayed in clear glass vessels.
For a similar reason, jelly glasses, custard cups and syllabubs tended to also be made from clear glass, with their brightly coloured confections drawing gasps of admiration from diners without the need for further. Jellies - mostly with conical or bell shaped funnel bowls, with short stems and high, domed feet - tend to be relatively plain with large rib-moulded or panel-cut facets, although much finer examples with engraving and scalloped or hand-cut rims do come to light on occasion. Less tall, with bucket or cup-shaped bowls, we find custard cups, many of which have handles, though this distinction would appear to be no more than a modern convention rather than being based on any original precedent for usage or naming, and it should be noted that instances of what are clearly jelly glasses may be found, complete with handles. Custards also tend to be of more recent vintage than jelly glasses, dating from the early part of the 19th century onwards, although earlier examples dating back to around 1760 have been catalogued.