|Front dust jacket of Michael Finlay's new book. Photo © Michael Finlay.
A few years ago, I worked on a television series with a well-known celebrity chef. In one of the programmes I constructed an elaborate pie, the lid of which I crimped with an eighteenth century pastry jigger. The chef, who was English (not Italian) referred to this object as a 'ravioli wheel'. She also called the sixteenth century wood-fired oven in which we baked the pie 'a pizza oven'. I was somewhat surprised that this highly successful professional had no idea that centuries before ravioli and pizza came to Britain, English cooks were shaping pastry with similar tools and baking their wares in wood-fired ovens. In this country her 'ravioli wheels' were once called by various names, the most common being rowles (also used to describe equestrian spurs), jagging irons, pastry jaggers and pastry jiggers.
|A jigger or sperone de pasticiero, being used to trim ravioli made to a fifteenth century recipe. However, these wheels and their attached implements were used for a multiplicity of other purposes by both professional cooks, bakers and housewives.
Old culinary utensils like pastry wheels are nowadays frequently referred to as 'kitchenalia', a word I dislike almost as much as the even more meaningless 'retro'. Objects that were used in the past by our ancestors in the preparation of food frequently give us clues about all-important details that are not mentioned in recipes. These utilitarian, but sometimes beautifully made objects are also testimonies to human ingenuity and the evolution of design. I have a friend who has been collecting antique nutmeg graters for more than forty years, yet she continues to discover examples that she has never come across before. An enormous amount of cooking has gone on in the course of human history, so the material culture of the kitchen is vast and probably unfathomable. The true expert will humbly admit to the limitations of their knowledge and an author embarking on a book about a particular family of kitchen objects will often have to lower their aspirations and not attempt the 'comprehensive study'. After publication, they are bound to make those annoying new discoveries that they failed to include in their final draft. There are plenty of general books on culinary utensils, but few have attempted specialist monographs which deal with a particular type of kitchen object. A notable exception is this new, profusely illustrated book by Michael Finlay on pastry jiggers - or what my contemporary chef friend called 'ravioli wheels'. In fact, Mr Finlay reveals that the earliest examples he has found are from renaissance Italy - so perhaps she was right in calling them by that name and I just proved myself to be a stuffy old pedant by referring to them as rowles, jaggers and jiggers.
|Perhaps the original 'ravioli wheels'. Two sixteenth century bronze Italian pastry jiggers or sperone de pasticiero illustrated in Michael Finlay's book. The sickle-like blades were used for trimming excess pastry. Photo © Michael Finlay.
Michael Finlay is well known for his in-depth books on other families of antique objects. His Western Writing Implements in the Age of the Quill Pen (Plains Books: 1990) is the authoritative work on the subject. His much quoted English Decorated Bronze Mortars and their Makers (Plains Books: 2010) is also the most comprehensive work ever written in the field. Many of the objects described in these two works were in Mr Finlay's personal collections. His latest book on pastry jiggers and prints is also based on a remarkably rich collection that he put together in just a few years. He traces the development of these humble kitchen drawer objects from the sixteenth century to the present day, dazzling us with the almost infinite variety of design solutions that the metalworkers and woodcarvers who made them came up with. Jiggers made from metal and wood are dealt with in great detail, including those with wheels made from recycled coins, bone, glass and ceramic. There is also a very useful chapter on scrimshaw jiggers, many of which were made by whalers as love tokens for their wives and girlfriends.
|Detail of above. Photo © Michael Finlay.
Another anthropomorphic bronze pastry jigger. Late sixteenth/early seventeenth century Italy. Photo © Michael Finlay.
|A very rare English silver jagger hallmarked London,1683, maker's mark AB. Photo © Michael Finlay.
|Just a small selection of Michael Finlay's collection. Photo © Michael Finlay.
You can buy Pastry Jiggers and Pastry Prints by Michael Finlay directly from the author. Here is the link you need.