About a fortnight ago, I wrote of my excitement at harvesting my first few stalks from the rhubarb that grows, in the big blue pot, at my back door. I think my delight in its growth, went to the rhubarb’s head, for, today, it was producing flowers from its crown. Flowers on rhubarb are a no-no, if you want healthy, strong rhubarb stalks, so I whipped outside and chopped off their little heads. Ouch! I felt brutal and mean, especially when I observed them closely and realised how pretty they (the flowers) are, all tight, pale greenish-whitish buds, tinged with tips of deep pink-pinkness.
To assuage my guilt, I brought them inside and placed them amongst my latest Constance Spry-esque flower arrangement of catmint, complete with wildlife (aka aphids).
So, why the plate in the photo, if you please ? Mostly, because it happened to be on the dish rack when I was arranging the rhubarb flowers, and I was taken by the way the colours of the plate’s rose design complemented the colours of the rhubarb buds. Like this….
But, it’s also on display because I had just finished reading an article by a Christchurch company, Underground Overground Archaeology , which is currently piecing together the pre-1900 history of our city, through all manner of artefacts, including broken pieces of china. The article prompted me to look with fresh eyes at my every-day dessert plate . There it was, sitting casually, air drying by the kitchen sink, as it, or one of its 5 companion pieces, has often done for nigh on twenty years. Yet its humble positioning, and purpose as a simple receptacle of a steady diet of sweet treats, belies the plethora of stories it contains within its brim.
Let’s take another look at my little plate
What would my treasured possession reveal, if it were to be unearthed a hundred years or more, from now, by fine-toothcombing archaeologists. For sure, it would be obvious from its Franciscan markings that its pottery origins belong to the American company, Gladding, McBean & Co., which began production of Franciscan dinnerware in 1934, in Glendale, California. They would easily discover that its Desert Rose pattern, issued in 1941, was an overnight success and became the most popularchina pattern ever made in America. And they would know that my little piece tells the sad tale of the decline and sale of Gladding, McBean & Co, and the subsequent manufacturing of this famous American/Franciscan design in England. http://www.replacements.com/thismonth/archive/v1209j.htm
But will they guess at the trifles and cakes and custards it has held? Will they guess at the number of times it has been licked and scraped clean by eager tongues and fingers and spoons? Will they wonder how this small piece of England and America came to rest in a small suburb, in a small city, in the south of the Southern Hemisphere? Would they see a young woman, ‘umming and aaahing’ at Abraham and Straus, White Plains, New York, trying to decide if she should buy 6 little bowls that didn’t match any of her chinaware, but were the perfect shape and size for her desserts? Would they realise that the young woman chose them mainly on the basis of their form, the way they nestled comfortably in her hand ; that no one in the china department was at all helpful at explaining why there was Made in England china amongst the stands of Made in America; that no one told her that Franciscan dinnerware was favoured by Jacqueline Kennedy; that it was famous!
And would they believe that the treasured dishes travelled from New York to Cairo and back again and, then, across the seas to far New Zealand? Could they tell that my Desert Rose sat at table in a Cairo suburb, in the company of the most beautiful and most sweetly perfumed of ‘desert’ roses, the Baladi Rose ( rosa gallica var. aegyptiacus ) ?
Would they hear, rippling across its surface, the songs that it has heard over the years? Elly Ameling sings Les Roses d’Ispahan
Perhaps, they will know and hear and see, if my blog survives as long as a fragment of china! But, isn’t it extraordinary, that a fashioned piece of clay, something intrinsically fragile, can carry the weight of history; the clues to our existence? Next time you plate up your ‘pud’ or your food, take a moment to consider what else is in your bowl. Hopefully, you won’t find the aphids off my catmint or a piece of poisonous rhubarb flower 🙂
Note: If you click on the word Constance, above, you will find lovely information, via the excellent blog of Teamgloria, on the remarkable Constance Spry.