The Cherished Tradition Behind the Tomato Server

It may seem like the most Southern invention ever, but we didn't come up with it.

Tomato Server
Photo: Replacements, Ltd.

Like any good Southerner who's been brought up right, my favorite way to eat a tomato is between two slices of white bread spread thick with Duke's mayonnaise and sprinkled with a little S&P. If the tomato is perfectly ripe, eating that sandwich should be a perfectly messy affair: best enjoyed while you're standing over the kitchen sink or leaning over a porch railing, so those tomato juices can slide down your chin with reckless abandon. The way I see it, the messier a tomato is to eat, the better it tastes. The etiquette-loving hostesses of Victorian England, however, would probably disagree.

Victorian society was characterized by strict morality that permeated all facets of life, including their table manners. This was a crowd that would make even the politest Southerner look like a slob. Bless. Even children working on their dexterity never got a chance to play with their food: A special utensil called a "food pusher" helped little ones move food onto their fork without using their fingers. The Victorians' distaste for finger foods and love for propriety gave way to a whole host of highly specific utensils, from aspic spoons to toast forks.

Enter the tomato server.

For all their ridiculous ways, folks in the Victorian Era still appreciated a good sliced tomato. But you best believe they weren't enjoying that 'mater in sandwich form. So what do you do when you don't get to enjoy a tomato the Southern (dare we say, right) way? You use a beautiful silver server, wide and flat, to ferry tomato slices from the serving dish to your plate. The ornate cutouts are pretty, yes, but they're also purposeful, as they prevent excess juice from swimming around your plate.

While you probably won't run across tomato servers on most of your friends' dining room tables these days, they're a fun piece for silver collectors and aren't terribly difficult to find: If you don't have luck at your local antique store, take your search online, as companies like North Carolina-based Replacements, Ltd., Chairish, and eBay will often have them for sale.

WATCH: You Need to Make This Heirloom Tomato Pie

There are a million ways to enjoy a tomato, but in the summertime, it's pretty hard to beat a classic tomato pie. Our recipe calls for three pounds of heirloom tomatoes, plenty of mayonnaise, and a generous helping of cheese.

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