Using the Good Stuff

I simply refuse to be defeated by sterling silverware.

Earlier this year, I was thrilled when we inherited a set of beautiful sterling flatware from a great aunt of my husband Olof's, and since we had already been using my mother's bone china on a daily basis, we decided to jettison the stainless and upgrade ourselves to daily sterling as well. As the L'Oreal commercial says, we're worth it.

While switching to using the bone china was pretty much effortless, the sterling thing has turned out to be a whole different ballgame. My much-missed long-deceased mother had beautiful sterling flatware, an exquisite set of Limoges (in addition to the wedding china I now have), and lovely Baccarat crystal, all of which is now in the possession of our younger-than-any-of-us widowed stepmother, Fang. At least weekly I pray that the Limoges is leaching lead.

But maybe Fang did me a favor stealing Mom's sterling. Once Olof's great aunt's flatware came into our lives, I quickly discovered how truly high maintenance it is. If you look on the Internet regarding care of sterling flatware, you'll conclude, as I did, that 99% of it lives a perpetually shunned life in its wooden storage coffin, pulled out only at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and ultimately inflicted on another hapless generation. Sterling flatware is the ultimate white elephant. Actually, the elephant would be less work.

Now there are some champions of daily sterling use out there. Life is short, they exhort! Use the good stuff! It's not that hard if you follow a few (dozen) simple rules!

Using sterling daily, for example, has the alleged benefit that you don't have to polish it as often. In my case, I hope this means never.

The biggest downside I've found with sterling flatware is that you can't use it on actual food. Among the comestibles that damage sterling silver are vinegar, acidic fruit juices, eggs, mayo, salad dressings, spaghetti sauces, table salt, olives, and pickles. We have enough trouble with our primary care doctor axing the high glycemic carbs without having to eliminate whole other classifications of food based on the preferences of our flatware.

There's a huge debate as to whether you can put sterling flatware in your dishwasher; most sites recommend you hand wash and dry it. If I had to hand wash all my silverware, we'd be eating with plastic forks. (The bone china has made the adjustment to Cascade.) My feeling is that everybody has to give a little here, including (and especially) the flatware.

For example, I quickly concluded that if you're going to use sterling silver daily, life is too short to heed the recommendation that you count all the pieces after each use. Spoon accidentally lost in the trash? Sayonara, baby!

Even the dishwasher advocates concede, however, that you can't let the sterling stuff touch stainless stuff in the silverware basket. Something about electrolytic reactions, ions, pitting, and other bad scientific-y things. So against my better judgment, my silverware caddy now has its own DMZ with a strict non-fraternization policy on either side. How long this will actually last has already been a subject of wagers in our household.

But even that's not enough. Absolutely no lemon-scented or "citrus additives" in your dishwasher soap which I can attest really does seriously yellow your silverware. (Some of us have to test every limit.) It's also important to rinse sterling silverware immediately after exposure to food, preferably while still in the diner's hands. Letting it sit on dinner plates on the kitchen counter while you watch Dancing with the Stars is inviting disaster. It just goes against everything I believe in to have my life controlled by silverware. But as much as I try to ignore it, I hear it calling out to me: "Yoo hoo, Inga, we're tarnishing out here!"

Waayyy too many sites advise that should you fail to comply with the Sterling Silver Playbook, you'll have to "take the ware for repairs to a professional silversmith." There's nothing about the term "professional silversmith" that sounds inexpensive to me.

The bottom line, of course, is what sterling flatware really requires is...servants. The Downton Abbey cast seemed to have no dearth of lackeys polishing the stuff on a regular basis. But I'm determined to use my nice things, including my new sterling, and nobody is going to stop me! Even if it all looks like hell in six months.

As for glassware, I'm afraid it's strictly Crate & Barrel. Because I don't think Fang is leaving me the Baccarat in her will. It probably couldn't go in the dishwasher anyway.