From Rhubarb to Roses

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….

Perfectly Matched

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 🙂

Catmint, rhubarb and aphids

Catmint, rhubarb and aphids

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.

© silkannthreades

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74 thoughts on “From Rhubarb to Roses

  1. Marylin Warner

    This is so much fun, Gallivanta!
    My Desert Rose dishes were my Aunt Louise’s, and she began purchasing pieces in 1945. She loved them and felt any food looked better and more appealing when served on her Franciscan plates. I inherited them when she died, and after 18 years I find I’m very attached to them. When I make a family dinner and we all sit around the table and join hands so one of the grandchildren can ask the blessing, I’m certain Aunt Louise is there with us, smiling.
    Thanks for a wonderful reminder.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      It is lovely to know that we share a love of these Franciscan pieces. I wish I had more but the 6 wee plates I have were all I could afford at the time. And,now,that it is just my husband and myself at home I can’t justify buying more china; we already have far too much. So, I will be content with my 6 plates and vicariously enjoy your plates from your Aunt Louise, if that’s okay with you. 😉 I enjoyed the green eggs and bacon; delicious thank you. Right now, I am serving lemon cheese pudding in my Franciscan plates. Would you like some? 😀

      Reply
  2. melodylowes

    Mmm, rhubarb! Strawberry-rhubarb jam is my favourite. I never thought to add any blossoms to the vase. They always get left on the ground willy-nilly when I karate-chop them off the plants. It looks very pretty!

    Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Possibly not because rhubarb is not usually propagated by seed, is it? And I haven’t come across rhubarb honey, so the bees may not have a use for it.

  3. LucyJartz

    I haven’t had rhubarb since we moved south. I remember the flavors. What a big difference from the sour bite from a raw stalk to the sweetness of the pies brightened with strawberries. But not I feel a bit homesick and nostalgic. Thanks for also adding the dessert plate for a taste of your life story.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Oh, I hope you aren’t too homesick 🙂 I haven’t tried the strawberry/rhubarb combination (ever!) but I am determined to do so this season. Do you still make pies where you live now? What would be the main type of filling?

      Reply
      1. LucyJartz

        My apartment has no (working) oven, so I make smoothie drinks when I have a sweet craving. I am a big fan of bananas, and cherries. Apples, cinnamon, and nut butters are great too.

        My dad went apple picking with his wife last weekend and talked about the flavors and textures of the varieties. THAT made me homesick. lol

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Cherries and apples are favourites with me too. Today I saw a recipe for an apple and plum smoothie; it looked divine. And, if your Dad is picking apples around Maine or Upstate New York sort of areas, I am seriously jealous. I adored the apples in New York. For awhile, I didn’t have a working oven and I made my cakes by steaming 🙂 Rather laborious and time consuming! And I made a type of bread in a frying pan 🙂

        2. LucyJartz

          You might be my best friend on a camping trip if you can bake in a dutch oven. I haven’t had plums like the ones we picked off of my neighbor’s tree when on the way to school. He caught my little brother and I climbing his tree and we thought we were in big trouble. He let us go on the condition that we put as many plums as we ate onto his front step as payment. I was grown before I realized he had gotten too old to get them for himself.

        3. Gallivanta Post author

          It would be a test of my memory and my skills to use a Dutch Oven again; I enjoyed the challenge of it when I had to make do without a proper oven. I have gotten lazy in my older age 🙂 How funny about the plums. A wise old neighbour. Also, I would much rather children helped themselves than see fruit go to waste on the ground.

        4. LucyJartz

          I think he was trying to teach us not to take things without asking as we cut across his lawn like little imps, and I grew up honest and considerate. He seemed to really enjoy our visits after that. (Memories of Maine apples and plums)

  4. ordinarygood

    I feel I have traversed far and wide reading your post and the interesting comments from readers and your good self. I see you have enjoyed added some orange peel to the cooking rhubarb. My Mum loved that and swore it reduced the acidity as well as adding a “little something.”
    As I cough and hack on here I feel warmed by the colours and beauty of your post.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Yes, I took your advice about the orange peel and it works a treat. I do hope you feel better soon. A little of my ginger and orange flavoured rhubarb would help you I am sure.

      Reply
      1. ordinarygood

        Excellent! Do you know I have had no sense of taste or smell for over three days now and my hearing is reduced too….it is quite a virus but improvement is happening little by little.

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          How miserable. It’s so dull (and annoying) and makes eating the food you need to be well such a chore. I have been looking at a Household Book that I bought as a fund raiser from our Hospice Shop. It is a reprint of the Nurse Maude Household Book (from the 1920s?) and tells you useful things like “how to make a cough mixture”; one needs syrup of squills! Whatever that is! Does that make you feel better?

        2. ordinarygood

          I’ve no idea what syrup of squills would be but an effective cough syrup would be a jolly good thing right now:-) I must look up a couple of ye olde recipe books and see what they advise as restoratives.

        3. ordinarygood

          Here is a link to the mysterious squill: http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/s/squill86.html
          An expectorant is what I need but it does sound a strong plant to be brewing up. Sometimes the threat of nasty medicine can see a rapid improvement in health!!!! I hope so. My lovely MotH has just been to get the shopping and snaffled a fresh asparagus bargain for me as a treat….or yum. I hope my taste buds are back tomorrow

        4. Gallivanta Post author

          LOL, I have just sent you the same link!! And, another snap; I bought asparagus today too. Saving it for tomorrow though. Enjoy, if you can. The first asparagus of the season is usually so good.

        5. ordinarygood

          I saw our snap link too! Oh fresh asparagus…what a treat and like you it is on the menu tomorrow. Fingers crossed my taste buds are back. Enjoy yours!

  5. lizzierosejewellery

    I’ve never seen rhubarb flowers – there’s a first. Are you being careful that your cat doesn’t upset the vase trying to obtain the catmint? What a lovely journey your dishes have had. I’ve got a few well-travelled sets myself! They never seem to get broken on our numerous relocations! (by the way, I was told I looked like Jackie Onassis the other day – must have been my sunglasses)!

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Ooooh, how nice to be told you looked like Jackie O, I think? Did you like that? I am sure your dishes have some great stories and, yes, I am always astonished at how few breakages we had in our travelling days. I laughed about the catmint. Our cat isn’t interested but, some years ago, I took a bunch of flowers from my garden to a friend. It contained catmint and her cat went crazy and eventually knocked the vase over!!

      Reply
  6. Sheryl @ Flowery Prose

    Beautiful arrangement…rhubarb flowers have such a rustic charm about them, I think, and they deserve to be displayed as decorations. I loved your story about the dish…it’s not really something I’ve thought of much, as most of my dishes are mass-produced and utilitarian, but I do have some teacups and saucers that were my grandma’s…I wonder what sorts of gatherings she used them at and where she got them. Maybe there was a story to them that is now lost.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I have mass produced dishes too ,and they can have their own extraordinary stories . Perhaps you are creating a new story with your grandma’s teacups? I might be tempted to fill one of them with rhubarb flowers 😉

      Reply
  7. afrenchgarden

    I never knew rhubarb flowered! I never cut my Nepeta either, yet the pale green leaves look lovely cut. I love your rose pattern plates, I am very fond of the simple, natural designs they made at the beginning of the 1900’s and I have a few favourite pieces myself.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I knew that it flowered but I didn’t expect it to do so this early in the season. Question that occurs to me; if I had left it, would the bees have enjoyed it? Google is not being helpful with an answer. 😦 Many plants find their way in to my vases, particularly if they are plentiful like catmint or even regular mint. Lovely to have you come by and read my garden stories; and to have the bonus of you joining as a follower. Thanks.

      Reply
  8. tiny lessons blog

    It’s a fascinating thought! What would they discover far into the future about our everyday household items. Yours is well traveled so are many of my little items. History has always caught my imagination. I can stand and stare at some old china in a museum and “see” what it has seen. A great story that started with your stubborn rhubarb producing flowers 🙂

    Reply
  9. Tracy Rhynas

    I haven’t had rhubarb since I left England! I think we got rhubarbed out as children – rhubarb crumble, rhubarb pie, rhubarb and custard, etc. etc. – it was given to us plentifully by thoughtful gardeners. Thinking about it now though I feel quite nostalgic 🙂 I have seen it here but it always looks small and half grown; not how I remember it at all. I am not sure I have ever seen the flowers before – such a pretty delicate colour.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I think a great many children got rhubarbed out! And often the rhubarb was not presented in the most attractive way so they got grossed out as well. Another blogger recently told me how to add orange peel to rhubarb to enhance its flavour; it really works a treat. Now, I love rhubarb even more! I don’t think I had seen a rhubarb flower before either. Hope you can find a little bit of rhubarb to taste. It can be quite small and still be delicious.

      Reply
      1. Tracy Rhynas

        Hmmm, rhubarb with orange, that sounds intriguing and the thought is appealing to my taste buds as we speak. Maybe I should give rhubarb another try next time I see it in shops!

        Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      It certainly is. I googled to see what a group of flowering rhubarb would look like and they make a very pretty display. Do you see buckwheat nearby? Apparently buckwheat and rhubarb are the same family. I think the flowers may look similar but I found it hard to tell online!

      Reply
  10. Clanmother

    One plate, many stories! Ah my dear friend, you must tell the stories. Many years ago I was on an archeological dig in Northern Manitoba. Every time we unearthed a “hearth” or a “chard” there would be rejoicing. We all knew there was a story – but we never fully pieced it together! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Dear Clanmother, I am working through my stories, one plate at a time, I think!! But, sometimes, some of the stories are so old, by now, that even I have trouble piecing them together! But, now, I am ‘all ears’ for your story, because you tell me that you worked on a dig!
      Gallivanta

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      It’s special to me but it’s not quite as collectable as the Desert Rose pattern which was made in America.My pieces were made in England and then marketed in the US. However, if I ever saw any of the pattern here, I would probably ‘collect’ it rather quickly whether it was UK or US made :). Do you collect any china?

      Reply
  11. YellowCable

    Wow! That is quite a view from looking at a seeming piece of ordinary household item. A wonderful story. I really enjoy the story and the lovely photos 🙂

    You have a kind heart for feeling brutally cut of the little rhubarb heads.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Aww, thank you. I do like to see the flowers of all plants, lettuce, spinach, parsley, whatever is in the garden, so it felt weird to cut off the rhubarb flower 🙂 The plant worked so hard to make that flower!

      Reply
  12. lagottocattleya

    What a beautiful post – and beautiful plates. I have never seen this before but understand your thoughts and love for it. I hope they will last many years yet!

    I wish I could find the time and the peace to contemplate things as wisely and poetically as you do. Thank you so much for sharing it all.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you. I really do hope the plates last as long as possible because that size of dessert plate is so very hard to find. Mmm..well I have to confess my contemplations are usually much interrupted but I am fortunate, in some respects, that I don’t have to follow a strict timetable of out of home activities.

      Reply
  13. Heather in Arles

    What a lovely story. Yes, I do like to think both about the provenance of things (especially those pieces which we brought back from our travels, like your dessert plates) and what traces are left behind too. Here in Arles, there is a lovely Antiquities museum and I am especially drawn to the “everyday” artifacts. What amazes me most is that something as delicate as glass (and it is especially delicate glass) could remain in one piece for thousands of years…

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I am sure your home is full of lovely tales of provenance, even with some of your newer acquisitions, like the paintings of Ben and Kingsley 🙂 And, Arles, has some serious Antiquities…..we are such a young place by comparison. Yes, glass is extraordinary. I seem to be able to smash a ‘good’ glass so easily ,yet, in some circumstances, it endures and endures. On glass and the everyday; we have these funny, small glasses in Australia and New Zealand, called vegemite glasses because they once contained vegemite. They are utterly indestructible and I love them…one day they will probably feature in an Antiquities display 😀

      Reply
  14. utesmile

    My mum has a plate with the rose on it too, and we were acrually watching while it was being hand painted, when I was a teenager. She still got the plate in the attic as we can’t use it, it has not been glazed. It does look lovely though. I wonder if you can drink catmint tea, like normal mint tea, which is ever so refreshing.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      That must have been so interesting, watching the plate being hand painted. And it’s lovely to think there is now a treasured plate tucked away in the attic to take out and look at sometimes. Mmmm….not sure about drinking cat mint tea; I will stay with normal mint tea.

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      That’s true but, in fact, archaeologists seem to love everything they find, how ever basic or ordinary. 🙂 I was actually thinking how my purchase of that particular china was one of your ‘blink’ moments! I really had no idea about its history at the time. It’s a pity, though, that my Desert Rose is not stamped Made in America because they are true collectors’ pieces!

      Reply
  15. Teamgloria

    Oh! You are so very delicious with the generous dollop of hyper linking and the like!

    And such a sweet story about the pudding bowls and their provenance and far travels. Lovely. Lovely. And we know Glendale well. We had tea with someone not so long ago in Glendale! Such a small world it tis.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      LOL! I once tried to be very brutal with snails but I was so filled with remorse afterwards that I now only pick them off the plants and place them on the grass; might as well leave them on the plants!!!!!

      Reply

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