It was, and still is, a tradition for young women who are going to marry to pick out their set of dishes and cutlery with the romantic vision of many fine dinners with family and evenings entertaining guests. If one had the means…the language wasn’t “dishes” but “fine china” and not cutlery but “silver” in a padded wooden chest.
My first set was one for 12 people and it was fine china by Noritake. Absolutely lovey…white with a colored rim of delicate flowers. My new Italian mother-in-law fancied and collected several different sets of the very finest china like Mitterteich from Bavaria, Lenox, and Wedgewood which were all proudly displayed in a oversized Henredon china cabinet in the dining room, and only used on holidays like Easter or Christmas.
I very seldom, if ever, seated 12 people at my table over the years so a set of 12 served as back-up replacement plates for our usual table of 4-8. Eventually, after several moves and lifestyle changes, that set dwindled and new colorful dishes took their places instead. In time, I inherited the Mitterteich dishes from my mother-in-law but to tell the truth they are still in the box of them that she gave to me one Christmas 20 years ago! Complete with serving platters, coffee server, gravy bowl etc. No place to store them in my kitchen (they are packed away in the basement) and no 12 people or Sunday dinners with family, who live in other states.
Brides these days are more practical and lifestyles are somewhat frenetic for the 30 year-olds, so often it’s Pottery Barn designs or tableware from Target, often bought by the piece rather than a whole set. And from what I know in my own family of busy professional daughters and their busy professional husbands…no one seems to be cooking full meals or sitting down together as a family on a regular basis anyway. Sunday dinner is periodically attempted in between weekend kiddie birthday parties, quickie play dates with peers and their kids, or just organizing and getting ready to once again catch a train on time for work in the city on Monday morning.
Over the years I have moseyed at flea markets and yard sales and I must admit, I fall in love with pretty dishes with interesting or cheerful designs that stimulate my imagination with mental images of happy family around the table, deliciously cooked specialties displayed on a lovely plate, serving hors d’oevres on a unique platter, to fun and interesting guests for the evening or afternoon. A dish here, a plate there. Always I have insisted on at least two of a pattern, usually four and occasionally six, which serves my actual lifestyle. Once in a while, a solo plate will join the mélange with the vision of serving some wonderful appetizer to a small gathering of good friends.
I host women’s circles which of course always include food so I do love to set a table where things match, but after this essay, I think I am going to surprise everyone at our next gathering and do a total mix-up! If you got it, flaunt it! My bargain mismatched set of dishes from everywhere!
In a nearby town, there is a “tea room” in which there are tables and chairs of all different styles mixed together and dishes that are all mismatched. The charm is un-mistakable, comforting and cheerful.
Are there times for perfect co-ordination, but also times for complete and random experimentation, inclusion or blending of differences? Kind of like a healthy society or culture…preserving unique and indigenous traditions, and yet allowing for a community that is open to differences and exchange of ideas.
The next phase of my life this upcoming year or two will be about moving, or downsizing, deciding what stays with me and what will be released for others to enjoy… the years of “collecting and adding” are giving way to simplicity and the elimination of all that needs to be tended and taking time away from passions and interests that have replaced earlier concerns…but for now…I enjoy my dishes, all of them, matched and now mis-matched and I intend to fill them with good food..sensuous, comforting and nourishing to share with friends and family around the table…
From Christine, The Cook
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