David Miller's fascination with the history of the 18th century led him on a series of adventures in London researching food molds and ultimately brought him into his present reproduction mold business.
About five years ago, an aunt, who knew about his appreciation for all things historical, left him in her will eight late-Victorian copper molds.
In inquiring how the molds were made and who had fashioned them with such careful and beautiful detail, Mr. Miller discovered that there was very little information readily available.
He wound up leaving his master's program in metalsmithing at Massachusetts College of Art and spending most of his time researching the origins of those and, eventually, many other old and interesting food molds.
Today, David Miller's life is surrounded by historical molds, reproductions of molds, and the culinary history that originally brought about their popularity.
In fact, his setting suits his work: He lives in a tiny 18th-century house in Salem, Mass., originally the night watchman's lodge for a nearby shipyard.
Mr. Miller's research into the history of moldmaking took him to the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College in Cambridge; the Smithsonian Institution Library in Washington, D.C.; the New York Public Library; the Museum of London; and eventually to the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, called the Brighton Pavilion.
There, he says, he might have stayed forever if only they'd extended the invitation. An exotic house with oriental architecture, Brighton Pavilion was once the summer home of George IV.
Now maintained by the Museum of London, it houses a large collection of copper and tin molds originally owned by the Duke of Wellington.
This is the ideal repository for these elaborate molds since the French chef, Antonin Careme, the man who brought molded foods into popularity, once cooked there for the King of England.
Careme was the chef to the Prince of Talleyrand, foreign minister to both Napoleon and Louis XVIII and a statesman known for his exceptional table.
Mr. Miller studied the duke's molds here and photographed many of them in the kitchen of the pavilion on the same table on which Careme had once worked.
Miller discovered in England that the ornate copper molds he had inherited had been handmade, put together one piece at a time by an assemblyline of men. Machines were used for a few of the end processes like sharpening and cleaning.
When molds were popular in the grand houses of the 18th century, many courses came to the table, including vegetable purees that were molded, forcemeats and pates baked in molds, molded ices served between courses, and many desserts.
''Around the time of the world wars, molds died out because the workmen who fashioned them retired and the small shops where they were made eventually closed,'' Mr. Miller said.
''Grand houses were no longer staffed by large numbers of servants, who had the opportunity to work in the war industries and elevated themselves from the domestic classes.''
With John Wescott, his metalsmithing professor from Massachusetts College of Art, Miller decided to reproduce some handmade 19th-century copper molds, carving wooden forms, spinning the copper, and then hammering it into shape.
The result was beautiful, he admits, but each mold cost from $100 to $150, an impractical price for most everyday cooks.
Therefore they are using a plastic that can be shaped into some of the antique mold designs used 100 years ago. Later they will produce antique designs that will be usable for baking and microwave oven use.
At present Miller and Wescott are making three different molds, all in styrene. One, a large 2-quart oval with a lobster imprinted on top, is a 19 th-century American mold. The second is a tall gothic arch of 5-cup capacity, also from the 19th century, which they found in a London catalog of A. B. Marshall, who ran a cooking school and produced over 1,000 of her own molds.
The third, a Bavarian star shape of 2-cup capacity, was originally used in Bohemia and central Europe.
Miller and Wescott are also tooling three additional designs, including an ornate 18th-century clamshell design from Nuremburg.
The molds will be available this fall in kitchen shops. All molds include advice on their use and recipes designed to fit them exactly. Here is an example.
This is a unique and easy ice cream made from milk and cream and lemon juice. When the lemon is added to the cream, the mixture curdles. In the 17th century, when this mixture was originally made, it was often packed into a mold and drained overnight, hence the word ''fromage'' (cheese) in the title.
It is one of the earliest ices recorded and it has a crystalline texture to it. This recipe comes from Massialot's ''Nouvelle instruction pour les confitures'' and was adapted by culinary historian Barbara Wheaton of Concord, Mass. Fromage Glace (Lemon Cream Ice) 3 1/2 cups milk 1 1/2 cups medium cream 2/3 cup sugar Grated rind of 1 lemon Strained juice of 3 lemons
Combine milk, cream, sugar, and lemon rind in a saucepan and stir them over low heat until sugar dissolves. Heat just to boiling and pour mixture into a shallow, metal nonaluminum roasting pan. Add lemon juice. The mixture will curdle but this is OK.
Chill in refrigerator 2 hours. Transfer pan to freezer and freeze until slushy, scraping sides of the pan every half hour with a rubber spatula. When slushy, beat vigorously with a wooden spoon.
Pour into a 5-cup mold and return to freezer 3 to 4 hours or until firm. Do not freeze overnight. Dip mold into cold water and turn out onto a serving platter. Makes 1 5-cup mold.
Note: If a smoother ice is desired, the mixture can be stirred vigorously a second time, after allowing it to become slushy again.