Saturday, October 8, 2016

"Everything you see

I owe to spaghetti."
~Sophia Loren
I am fascinated with all the Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest posts about food!  Videos, recipes, photos...nonstop...and, as we head into the holidays, food does dominate, but how many sit down at the table and enjoy that meal?  We grab and go; we drink our meals; we drive-through.  I was pricing a couple platters, and I got to thinking about plates and their history.

I think a platter makes a neat food tray for the sports fan who is glued to the TV...World Series and football come to mind.  But, the idea of people eating from their plates is interesting.  In the Middle Ages, plating basically consisted of ladling stews or porridge into trenchers–hollowed out “plates” cut from loaves of old bread, the staler the better. And you thought you were being "nouvelle cuisine" with your soup or spinach dip in a bread bowl!

A little research brought this tidbit.. Marie-Antoine Careme, arguably the first celebrity chef, who brought plating into the modern world. Careme, who was born in 1784 and died in 1833, was an avid amateur student of architecture–he even considered pastry making “the principal branch” of the art. As chef de cuisine to personages all the way up to Napoleon Bonaparte, he presented dishes in the shapes of famous monuments, waterfalls and pyramids; he’s believed to have invented the croquembouche:
(A side note for those who are familiar with Atlantic Cape Community College where I teach...their culinary program has a restaurant called Careme's.)

Originally in Europe food would have been brought to the table on platters and carved. People would then use their fingers to take what they wanted from the platters to eat. Breads and fruit would be placed in baskets on the floor for diners to help themselves.

According to my research, when slabs of bread would be used to hold the meal, sauces, even salt for the diner, the bread was hard enough that the bread would be used as candle holders as well as being carved to hold food.
During a particularly elaborate meal, several trenchers would be carved for each diner. Well, they would be carved for the more important diners at the table. Those of lesser importance were expected to carve their own trencher from the nearest loaf.

Upon finishing the meal, bread trenchers would be thrown to the dogs to eat, or would be given outside to the poor as alms. After soaking up all the juices from the foods they would actually have been quite filling and nutritious. Certainly they would have been easier to chew.

It was a very hungry man indeed who would actually eat this bread. A very coarse flour would be used in the making of the breads then they would be left to sit and harden for several days before being sliced.

In the middle ages, those who could afford them bought plates of pewter. The lead used in making pewter would leach out though, especially when highly acidic foods were placed upon them, causing lead poisoning. One food which especially caused this was the humble tomato, hence the origins of the belief that tomatoes were poisonous.
The poorer people could not afford plates of pewter, and they had trenchers of wood instead, and these trenchers generally weren't washed in between meals. The resultant bacteria and worms inside the wood caused people to develop mouth sores. This is where we get the phrase "trench mouth".

Over time, plates became more elaborate. They went from being made of pottery to pewter and other metals. As techniques progressed, plates were made from finer porcelain and china.

So, appreciate that plate in the cupboard!  And consider a platter for a TV tray or an appetizer tray and not just to plop a turkey or chicken on!  A couple 19th century ironstone platters in stock...


There is a difference between dining and eating. Dining is an art. When you eat to get most out of your meal, to please the palate, just as well as to satiate the appetite, that,my friend, is dining.”  
                                                                           ~Yuan Mei

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