It’s likely you already have a gravy boat lingering in the back of some cabinet because you never know what to do with it. The gravy boat has fallen out of favor because most of our meals probably don’t involve a discrete gravy anymore, and when it does exist, it’s served straight on the meat and tastes just as good. But holidays aren’t most nights, for a reason. The whole point of them is to mark a specific occasion by doing things differently. And that means bringing out the gravy boat, this weird and specific thing that only serves one use, that reminds you celebration requires impracticality.
Though more maximalist tablescapes have been making a comeback, the gravy boat remains unpopular. It’s a ridiculous thing, and it could reasonably be replaced by a ladle or bowl or any small cup with a spout already on hand. This is what most people I know seem to have decided on. They can’t be bothered to bring out the inherited gravy boat, or they see no sense in buying one when so many other things will do.
Yes, you could just use a spouted measuring glass, or a regular bowl and spoon, to serve gravy. You could also eat your Thanksgiving dinner with plastic cutlery, or in front of the TV, or out of a trough. Sorry, I understand the trend toward more casual hosting and holidays. Without a fleet of servants, producing dinner for 12 and setting a table with separate utensils for each course is too much for most people to manage, and no fun, either. But at a certain point, why bother celebrating at all if you’re not going to get a little extravagant with it?
Using a gravy boat is like the difference between drinking your tea from a cup and saucer or from a mug. Both work, but one just feels fancier. Blanketing your entree in gravy from a gravy boat is lightly decadent, the wide opening requiring a more delicate hand than with a pitcher, tilting it at just the slightest angle so the sauce pours in neat ribbons. You have to pay the slightest amount of attention to the action, which means paying attention to the whole plate, and the meal, and the day.
If you don’t already have a gravy boat you’ve been ignoring, they’re not hard to come by. You can usually find ceramic, pewter, or even silver options at antique stores and thrift shops, and Etsy is full of them at all price points. There are also more modern options, and, of course, delightful novelty ones.
There are technically other things you can do with a gravy boat. It can hold candy or a few delicate flowers, or chopped herbs that guests can sprinkle on their dinners. But also, it doesn’t have to do anything else. Unearthing a beautiful piece of servingware that you use only a few times a year becomes its own ceremony. It’s a reminder that joy is worth effort, that there is satisfaction to be had in a beautifully set table and excitement in seeing things that aren’t usually there. Celebrations aren’t built on doing things the way they’re always done. And a Pyrex measuring cup on your table would look like crap.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Photo assistant: Eric Fortier