Many of us, perhaps especially on the male side of the gender balance, are happy to eat our meals on whatever holds the food conveniently. Utilitarianism is sort of our middle name.
But there’s an aesthetic to eating socially that’s more than just encompassed in the words ‘fine dining.’ I suppose one doesn’t realise how social, or sociable, eating together is, until say reclusivity is forced upon us. But even diplomacy is conducted over dinner, so perhaps a few words about the plates we eat from might be opportune in our consideration of life in these valleys during this year.
Harking back to the Burns Night Supper, here in Allendale’s Village Hall, I’m reminded that the crockery and cutlery deployed for that humble feast of haggis, neaps and tatties was a matching set donated by Allendale Bakery. Functional, robust and white, the dinner service has served well, over the years, integrating into a large variety of different decor themes in a small host of wedding receptions and parties.
The older crockery in the hall is even more sturdy, but its double ring (I seem to recall it as mauve and gray on a dull beige?) style is slightly outdated now. Still particularly useful for supplementary coffees and teas, of course. Now that the Allendale Women’s Institute have taken their tea cups and saucers elsewhere, that’s a valuable facility, since the WI service did at one time come in particularly handy for large funeral teas, for example. Other halls have their own service too.
For smaller to medium-sized family gatherings, unless matching crockery is hired in, the service strategy must be a cobbled-together collection of plates, or recourse to paper. I don’t know what they do in Australia, roasting their turkeys on the barbie, but I don’t think I could bear to eat Christmas dinner off a paper plate. Well. But it’s looking like our truncated joint family gathering at Christmas this year might encompass possibly nine diners, one more than the largest set we have to hand. We could combine crockeries and eat just as happily, but I was thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to have a matching set? At least to enhance the feeling of celebration, to contribute to the aesthetic sense of occasion.
I spied an intriguing art deco dinner service pattern on eBay, and as I looked around, I discovered the same pattern offered by another seller. Combining the two offers, I thought, might create a rather dramatic 10 or 12 place setting, something almost unheard of these days. I rather liked the pattern, too, and hoped that Carrie would as well. When the first package arrived, she exclaimed, ‘Oh, that’s lovely!’ — with a much more convincing tone than the photo in her birthday card had elicited. ‘They’re so much better than the picture!’ [Whew!]. Unfortunately, the top plate was the only intact one of the set — every other plate was smashed to smithereens. The bowls, however, were intact (though the side plates looked like they’d had an unfortunate experience inside a dishwasher), so if we were to be serving a pasta dish, for example, as is more contemporary than soup from a tureen on the table, we’ll be laughing. Not yet turkey with all the trimmings, on matching plates though.
Sadly, I dumped the broken crockery into the waste bin, remembering all the ceramic pieces I’ve clocked in the big rubble skip at the Household Waste Disposal Centre.
We await the second shipment with great interest, but meanwhile I’ve got numerous search enquiries saved for the pattern; my eyes are wide open for the potential. After all, the service is nearly a century old, and since it’s still apparently delightful to today’s sensibilities, it must be approaching iconic status I guess.