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Friday, September 25, 2009

dishes

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With the onset of autumn, I remember that I have china. "The Holidays" are around the corner with all that feasting - the first being Thanksgiving in November when we'll welcome Don's family to the farm. I will be digging into the china cabinet for bowls, cups, plates, pitchers and platters to serve mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, candied yams, coffee, and pumpkin pie.

I collected the cups and saucers, above, from different antique shops because I loved the rosebud handles. Once I fell for the first set, it was not easy to find more. This was before eBay.

This egg cup is a good excuse for making soft boiled farm fresh eggs Friday morning after Thursday's Thanksgiving feast. My set of Spode buttercup belonged to Grandma Olive, then my mother, and now to me. When I pull them out, I feel I am touching my women, and their hands are now my hands.

No matter how humble the home of a woman is, she feeds her family on dishes. On special occasions she will spend extra time chopping, mixing, cooking and filling her best ones with feast-worthy delectables. If her mother used those dishes before her, their value goes deeper. And if her mother's mother used them before her, serving food in them is an even greater joy.

Every ladle of food - from the thinnest soup to the heartiest meat - becomes food for the soul as well as the body when family and friends come together and multiply memories and generations through celebration.

My sister Nancy gave me this Irish Belleek butter dish that looks like an Irish cottage. It is so lightweight, it feels like you are holding a seashell. You can tell it is European because it is square, not oblong, for the European shape of packaged butter. I cherish it as a gift from my sister as well as for the link to Ireland where I have fond recollections and connections.









Everyone in the world deserves to eat well, to live well. In photographs of the world's poorest communities, I have seen blue tarp shanties set up with style, neatness and grace. There is an instinct within us humans, in women especially, to nurture the family. This nurturing is for the body, the soul and the heart. When she feels her dishes are beautiful, the food is appealing, and that she is bringing her loved ones together at special times to create new memories and remember old ones, it is worth every chop of an onion, each whisk of butter and flour for a roux, all the stirring of thick batter for cake, all the rolling out of pie dough for custardy pumpkin filling, the kneading of bread dough for yeasty buns, and every heartfelt anvil of stress over the possibility that everything won't get done or taste delicious. There are many men, like Don, who also feel these instincts and spend hours in the kitchen out of a desire to nurture loved ones.

What follow are from a big heavy wonderful book called The Way We Live by Stafford Cliff with hundreds of photographs by Gilles de Chabaneix, showing how people live around the world. I chose some pictures of people preparing food, as well as dishes.







Romania


Bangkok




Sweden



Provence



Sweden

And this final photo is not from the book but was taken by rauf near Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India. When I saw this at his post in February I was so touched I had to stop and be quiet. This is a mud hut, and the woman of the house designed and built the wall mounted dish rack herself.


63 comments:

amuse me said...

What a lovely way to think of the dishes that have been passed down from generations. I never knew my husband's grandparents but now I will ask more questions about them when we use set of dishes they used. Saved for those special occasions. :) M

CottageGirl said...

Ah! My heart!
I gasped when I saw your topic for this post.

You have the most exquisite collection of dinnerware. So delicate. So welcoming. Each piece makes the person who is partaking feel very special ... loved.

The collections from around the world that you have carefully gathered illustrate what we as women have in common ... The desire to make something extraordinary out of daily routines.

João said...

here in Portugal these things go from generaation to generation, usually from mother to daughter...At my home, when I was a boy I thought this to be the nicest thing we had...along with the old cabinet where it all was kept (don't know why my parents, just get rid of the old cabinet, and I loved it).
http://antiguidades.marques.planetaclix.pt/images/ev/ev_sac/Tra/S-Tv2.jpg

Anya said...

Wow!!
You have a wonderful collection :)
BEAUTIFUL !!

Jill of All Trades said...

I just love dishes but just don't have the space to collect many. Have to get my fix from these wonderful pictures.

ellen abbott said...

I really enjoyed this post. I have three sets of china and after the kids grew up and left we started using one of them for everyday. Another set is from my aunt and the third is a collection of place setting from the china of different members of our families. This is the one that gets used for special occasions. Every place setting different and representing people who are no longer with us and still with us.

I really enjoyed the pictures of the women as well.

Jeanie said...

Well, first off, as soon as I saw that opening photo, I knew I was in love with this post, being the dish freak that I am! Some people collect stamps; I collect dishes, and they take up a lot more room (and are far more useful!)

But when you wrote this: "No matter how humble the home of a woman is, she feeds her family on dishes.... If her mother used those dishes before her, their value goes deeper. And if her mother's mother used them before her, serving food in them is an even greater joy."

Oh, Yes. Yes indeed. For me, the food is only a part of the meal; the rest is caring enough to serve it right.

Loved the photos from the book. I'll have to look for that one.

rauf said...

'rauf give me a hand, please carry these plates' and i am nervous, its a huge responsibility.
oh deeah why me ? That's the time my silly nose starts to itch.
i see all the dishes neatly stacked and displayed in the glass cabinet and i stop breathing. i am served food in a fancy dish on a glass dining table and i can't enjoy the food, my priority is to finish the food as fast as possible without causing any damage. i am a walking disaster Ruth.
put everything in the stainless steel bowl i'll eat here
why don't you join us ?
i am fine here. i want to watch TV.
what i really want to say to them is, you don't have to impress me, any food any container is fine as long as its not fancy, expensive or delicate, i juss wan to eat.
i avoid friends taking me to fancy restaurants Ruth, i am fine at places like the Bangkok picture and i enjoy the food. our streets are full of such places with a wide variety of food. But i prefer eating at home.
Ruth, please watch Peter Seller's 'The Party' That is the place i don't want to be.

rauf said...

i love wooden plates and spoons Ruth, the ones you have seen in the western movies.

Peter said...

What a wonderful collection!!!

When I moved to a smaller flat (on my retirement), I put all old china into cartons. I have no place for big dinners any more. Now I hope that my daughter will make use of them, once she's properly installed (soon)!

What is on the plates may be more important than the beauty of the china, but...

The photos from elsewhere are charming! (I note TWO from Sweden, where I was recently, putting my parents' china into cartons. What shall I do with all this? No space to save it, far away for transport... Too bad!)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Love this.
I have such a passion for china...tablesettings....glassware...linens!
Love your butter dish.

Dee Dee said...

Oh my Ruthie, thank you for another beautifully written blog and another, never to be disappointed, photos...I want to think you added Bangkok for me:-)
I love following your blog.
Dee Dee

Arti said...

Exquisite... both the dishes and the Ireland photos. Love your POV: the curves and corners, a visual feast indeed! I've been to the Stonehenge but not Ireland... maybe someday. Back to the dishes, my fave pic is the Provence one, love the beautiful color.

ds said...

Beautiful, Ruth. What are the holidays for if not the making and keeping of memories? And to be able to literally pass along one's heritage with the gravy, well...As Virginia Woolf wrote, "we think back through our mothers, if we are women."
I liked rauf's photo best. Such beauty in such a humble place. That is true care.
Thank you.

California Girl said...

very cool photos. i too love dishes, crystal, silverware and, used to love silver pieces. howeverr, I find my silver sets, platters, etc gathering dust and blackening from the oil heat in the house and I am no longer shining and using them as I once did. Apparently I am not alone. Baby boomers are trying to consign, sell and or ebay belongings they've collected or inherited from past generations to little effect. The younger generations aren't terribly interested. sigh. waited too long.

Anet said...

Oh Ruth, your china is just beautiful!
Grandma Olive's set is so pretty and I just love-love-love the butter dish!

caroldiane said...

Ruth, I just know you and I would be friends and we would share many a meal preparation together if we lived closer - we just click on many subjects! Love your dishes and love the way you treasure them and use them and celebrate them. Thank you for giving me another reason to anticipate the season ahead - bringing out the good china to break bread with family and friends. xo Carol

julie king said...

oh, what a delightful blog you have here!! i can't recall how i found you but i'm so glad i did!

i love dishes as well and am collecting tea cups and saucers so my kids and grandkids have something to divide one day when i'm gone. hee hee

Ruth said...

M, we were just talking with a friend about grandparents that are gone, and now it's too late to ask their stories. How good that you are ready to ask and they are still here to tell you. Wish I could listen in.

And now you can serve some of that rainbow trout with apple garnish on those dishes.

Ruth said...

CottageGirl, the comments here are validating what I felt so strongly, that women have an instinct for collecting dishes. I was doing it as a very young child when I dug deep down into the white clay underwater at Crystal Lake. I molded little dishes and set them to dry in the white sand. I wonder what happened to those.

Ruth said...

João, that is a beautiful dish. I have always been partial to the monochromatic designs. I have several plates like that piece in red, some of buildings that are familiar, such as the library at my mother's college. The cabinet in the top photo is important to me too. It is one of the few things I received from my father that he picked out a long time ago. He was partial to oak. The shelves are pine though, I think.

Ruth said...

Anya, thank you, it is eclectic, which is the best kind I think.

Ruth said...

Jill, help yourself, coffee or tea in one of the rosebud cups?

Christina said...

"No matter how humble the home of a woman is, she feeds her family on dishes." Deep sigh, for beauty. The book looks gorgeous, my friend.
xo

Loring said...

The last three photos just get me thinking of Three Stooges catastrophes.

Deborah said...

What a restful few minutes I spent reading your blog! It was like stepping into an old, quiet, peaceful house full of history and memories. I love the book, too and will try to get it. Thanks for this!

Susan said...

Ahhh, Ruthie, you have a passion for dishes and history and kinship and I share that passion. What a wonderful collection you have!

I just bought two teapots yesterday at Goodwill. One is an ironstone by Ellgreave, an English company. The other is one of those nice fat, heavy ones that really hold the heat and it's made in Bedford, Ohio.

My mother's dishes are always brought out at holidays. They make me feel as if she's here watching over us.

The Provence picture could be a painting by Vermeers...so lovely. And I love the one taken by Rauf...unbelievably creative and resourceful!

Ruth said...

Ellen, what a terrific idea for everyone to have a different place setting that was passed down, giving continuity to the family and the anticipation.

If you get to a bookstore soon, please look through this book if they have a copy. You won't be able to get away from it for some time.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, you enjoy the hunt as much as the results. I used to be like that, but when we ran out of room I lost my relish for the hunt. We lost 1,000 square feet moving from our last house to the farm, that is in the house. Of course now we have storage room in outbuildings. :|

For a while there, my sister Nancy was collecting for me. I have several Belleek pitchers, and I have quite a few eclectic white pitchers. I like deciding what I feel like using on a given day.

I got the book at Schuler's, but of course I don't know if they have it now.

Ruth said...

rauf, hehehe.

This is going to be a long response, rauf.

I have been playing house since I was old enough to dig the beautiful white clay from the sand under water at Crystal Lake, the cleanest lake in Michigan. I set the little bowls out in the sun to dry. I wonder where they disappeared to after I served my brother John some pretty moss and reeds.

I inherited a beautiful vase from Grandma Olive. Within a month I broke it. I felt so stupid. How could I break something so quickly, so easily that had been handed down for so many years? I remembered Nancy’s story when she was a girl and stayed with Grandma Olive and broke one of her prized vases. Grandma Olive was very upset and scolded Nancy. Nancy decided right then, as a child, that she would never ever make anyone feel bad if they accidentally broke something. “There is no life in it,” she said.

We impart the “life” into these objects, these little symbols of our family members, our memories. But if something breaks, there is some remorse, but then the realization that the life is in our heart, not in the object.

By the time I got the Spode, there were very few pieces left. Dad wanted to complete the set for a wedding gift, until he found out that just one sugar bowl was $65. My mom had used them every day, and plate by plate they broke or chipped. I have broken many dishes in my life (and spilled a lot of milk). Thankfully, there was no life in them.

My china set I found at a farm auction and paid $55 for service for 12. The monetary value does not matter to me. But I love the pattern and it makes me happy to serve my family year after year on those dishes.

You are welcome to come break dishes at our house any time, rauf, I would be honored. But if you would be more comfortable, I would give you a wooden plate. Those tin plates in your photo would work fine too, eh?

Ruth said...

Peter, as you know our daughter was recently married. She registered for china at a store. I don't think she got more than a few pieces. I don't think it's fancy, but she and Brian wanted to have something nice when they invite friends over. Maybe it matters most to the host/ess, as she feels the loving energy go from her hands into the food with special effort.

It took me a long time to realize that guests don't care about much if you make them feel that you are comfortable and relaxed. This frees them to enjoy if they can, but they are not under pressure to convince you they are enjoying themselves, because they see you are enjoying the time with them.

Ruth said...

Pamela, after all, they are small pieces of art. I think to design a plate would be so much fun. Or, I could design a room around a plate! I wonder if you get to put dishes out for photo shoots . . .

Ruth said...

My Dee Dee! Oh sweet woman, yes of course I added Bangkok for you. Too bad you and I weren't sisters young enough to play house together. And you could have read my palms.

Ruth said...

Hello, Arti, I missed you. Your trip to the tip of Alaska must have been exciting.

Newgrange in Ireland is a very cool spot, where the sun enters a sliver opening into the dwelling just 3 days of the year. I have not been to Stonehenge - maybe one day I will.

Ruth said...

Hello, dear DS. "We think back through our mothers, if we are women." It's true, whether we know and remember her stories or not. I find myself creating fictions to fill in the gaps between what I know. What I witnessed was my mother feeding nine of us day in day out, and later feeding international students, making curries and stir fries. She did not love to cook, but she loved people and made them feel at home at her table.

C.M. Jackson said...

Ruth-As the weather turns cool, I find myself flipping through cookbooks. With that to planning get togethers to get us through the holidays and the cold months.

A beautiful table compliments the food and makes for a special event.

Love your collection of china.

Wonderful post. c

shicat said...

I can't tell you how much I love this post.I love all of your dishes,the flower tea cups especially. I inherited my mom's tea cups that she used when she and her friend had card club. I love them.
I too have been thinking about the holidays,since it's my turn to have Thanksgiving.This year will be an even larger gathering with the addition of my soon to be daughter in-law's family. Her Yaya is coming home from greece,which she does every year,and I just happen to have a great spinach pie recipe which I am anxious for her to try.
I'm rather sad at the thought of not using my collection of found mismatched vintage dishes, I'm afraid the guest list requires that I use paper products:( at least for now that's what I'm thinking.

How We Live, looks like my kind of book, I think I will have to buy it. All of the photos are classic but the one from India, what a great display shelf. Reminds me of my mom's now abandoned adobe ranch home in New Mexico. Don't you love the blue. I wonder if this color is used to keep away evil spirits? I know my mom's house had similar colors and that's why they used it. SOrry so chatty today,just love the post.Must be the feeling of fall in the air. Peace.

Barry said...

All this time my attention has just been focused on the food! I've been missing a lot.

shoreacres said...

Ruth,

In your own way you've restated something dear to me. The women of the labor movement and the textile mills strikes in the early part of this century knew, in the words of the song, "Hearts starve as well as bodies... give us bread, but give us roses". It's still true.

The dishes are the roses that accompany bread, and there is no time, no place not to put them to use. Every day is a special occasion, after all, and a bit of beauty can restore even the most worn and weary humanity.

Early in my blogging career I told the story of feeding "my" work crew after tropical storm Allison destoyed the house. Here is just a snippet from that post, the most relevant to what I understand you to be saying:

In the beginning, one of my jobs was to go to a barbeque restaurant outside the flood zone and bring home a hot dinner to the work crew. The food was great; the ambience wasn’t. One evening, I was struck by a thought ~ ”Who in the world needs styrofoam plates in the middle of hell?” The next day, I pulled out my good china and served dinner as though nothing had happened.

In the midst of the chaos and filth, the porcelain gleamed. Looking at the plates, one fellow walked outside, washed up with the hose and put on a clean tee-shirt. Paper-towel napkins were folded, instead of being dropped in a pile next to the food. Ice chests and chairs were pulled together, and everyone sat down to eat, instead of balancing their styrofoam containers on window ledges or sawhorses. As silverware clinked and rattled against porcelain, we ate, and talked, and felt just a bit more human. I didn’t think of it then, but later Oppenheim’s phrase came to mind, and took on meaning. Bread, AND roses...


Thank you for such a wonderful post. I told jeanie recently I thought I might tell some of my "dish stories". Perhaps I will

Ruth said...

California Girl, remember the Hunts and the silver slide in 1980? That was crazy. But you're right, there is little value now, unless you use it. Did you know that aluminum was once like gold? I think one of the Louis's once had a priceless set of aluminum flatware. Diamonds are only valuable because of the market.

I have some little silver serving spoons that are very valuable to me because of the craftsmanship.

Ruth said...

Anet, oh thanks! The butter dish has an iridescent glaze that is characteristic of Belleek, I hope you can see it.

Ruth said...

Caroldiane, how wonderfully sweet you are, wouldn't it be fun to break out all the stops and put on a feast? For this reason alone I would love a big kitchen like we had in our last house where no matter what party we had everyone ended up around the huge kitchen island. But our friends who are coming this evening prefer our little farm kitchen and eating at our little red kitchen table.

gemma said...

Your china is sacred. So is mine,
some coming from a couple of generations. I daresay all the others who make food for their families have pottery and wares that are equally priceless.

Ruth said...

Hi, Julie, I'm glad you're here.

Be sure to use those cups and saucers so when they divide them they will remember them, and you in them.

Ruth said...

Christina my dear. I know you understand, you of anyone. You take such joy in everything around you, and you instill joy and love into all of it. That is what this is about.

Ruth said...

LORING! whoop whoop whoop ngah ngah ngah !

Such was my life every day at 3:30 after school, just before Popeye.

Oh said...

oh! oh oh oh oh oh! Ruth! This is lovely. First your special things and I am mad about that butter dish. Just lovely.

And then, the book? Right up my alley. Thanks for sharing that. I'm inspired. Our family lives all over the US map. I am thinking about making "books" about the way we live and sending them off to siblings, cousins, etc.

Oh, but your pictures, I love them!

Sidney said...

You really have beautiful dishes!

Interesting images from around the world!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Deborah, I'm glad you came over.

And I just read your post about your friend, and I am very touched. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Susie, now you have raised another thought, that of adopting someone else's memories in those teapots. I wonder what stories they have to tell?

Having our family's old dishes out for holiday meals does so many things. It connects us with them, and also gives our children continuity and rhythm.

I know, that Provence photo is lovely. I always have trouble cutting open pumpkins that big! Yikes. And rauf's image just makes me want to meet the woman who created that wall storage.

Ruth said...

C.M., I have too many cookbooks. I love them all, and I turn to them for certain things, but I do not use them the way my imagination tells me to use them. Our nesting instinct comes alive now as we head into winter. Have to store up some fat!

Ruth said...

I love it when you are chatty Cathy. Ohh, you get to host Yaya from Greece. With friends at our table last night we discussed various cultures (mostly Germany and Turkey) and how differently they perceive hosting. I am convinced that our loss of ethnicity in the U.S. is why we've also lost focus on hospitality. Those sensibilities are handed down and modeled by the older generations, and we are very far removed from our Swedes and Germans in my family. But still my parents were very hospitable. The U.S. is a strange place. I would love to listen to Yaya talk about being hospitable in Greece. I hope she speaks English so you can hear her stories. I'm sure she'll love your spinach pie. Oh I love spanikopita.

Ruth said...

Haha, Barry, you go right on focusing on the food, be my guest.

Ruth said...

Oh thank you, Linda for that: "give us bread, but give us roses." And your story! That's fantastic, exactly why the dishes matter. It is how we ascribe worth to our guests. Not that it is the only way, or that if we use foam or paper we are not ascribing them worth. But the message you communicated through your extra effort was heard loud and clear: after Allison, they needed some heaven, and you had the means and notion to create it. I love it.

I look forward to your rich stories always.

Ruth said...

Gemma, that's the word: sacred. Sacred because we make them that way, not because they were manufactured. We give them our attention, our love, because we are going to give someone some of the same through them.

Ruth said...

Oh oh oh, I love your writing, Oh. There I said it again.

You could bring your linen tablecloth smile over and sit by the butter dish. But you wouldn't need that smile at my house.

Books on how you live would be perfect, unique, just for you and your loved ones. Brilliant.

Ruth said...

Sidney, did you see I linked to your Philippines Railway post? :)

~*~Magpie's Nest said...

lovely, lovely and lovely!
I am a fan of china and find such delight in odd pieces ... your special butter dish looks like you might almost be able to see sunlight thru it if you hold it up to a window
Some of my favorite plates are enamel with daisies on them, I've had them since the 70's and they are not very nicked up even ... bowls are also a fav thing to eat out
I am so happy to have found your blog and have Jeanie to thank!
I'm off to see more Ireland posts :) ~*~ Patty

Ruth said...

Hi, Patty! You are artistic, you could make plates. I've always thought it would be a great project to design and make dishes. Don has a kiln, but he has not set it up, nor do we have a wheel, but he would like to try his hand at throwing pottery. I would like to try it too.

Glad you like the Ireland stuff too.

Claudia said...

I cherish the china, linen and silverware I've come to inherit from my grandmother, great-grandmothers and great-aunts. I use them on special ocasions and I believe that even though they are old and delicate they play an important role in family life. They shouldn't be stashed away as if in a museum. I'm careful with them and hope I'll pass them on one day, with their own little bit of family history.

You've got beautiful china, Ruth!

Ruth said...

Claudia, just the words grandmother, great-grandmothers and great-aunts are so beautiful! They too got fragile over time, and how we treasure them.

Oliag said...

Dear Ruth - I always enjoy your comments as much as your post! This has all been such a lovely read and as usual has gotten me thinking...

My parents were both among the youngest of large families so they inherited little...by the time it got to me I received one brown transferware platter from one grandmother and one cut glass vase from the other...both have since broken...Though these plates have broken my memories of meals at their tables remain intact and it is that that I hope to hand down to my grandchildren...

That being said I have to say I am a great lover of dishes...especially of bowls and platters...and altho my urge for "the hunt" has also dwindled it has been fun:) I love your collection and would eat eggs from those eggcups daily if possible...

PS Would love to be in that Provence pic!

Ruth said...

Hi, Oliag! That makes me happy you like the comments too. I know some people must think I'm strange to answer each one individually, but to me what people write here, and the directions they go, is part of why this is interesting to me.

You'll create new memories with new items that you love. Your grandchildren will form their own vision of you, partly through the things you touch frequently.