JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Do you heat your plates?

When Lucius and I were engaged, we spent a lot of time in the car, driving between our - then - two houses in Bristol and Henley-on-Thames, and also visiting friends and relations. It was in the days when not all cars had radios, and few people - certainly not us - had tape machines. So I read to Lucius as we drove. We got through a number of books while it lasted - we gave up the habit when our first child was born.

One of the best books was Coningsby, a novel by Disraeli, the 19th century British statesman. It is fair to say that I might well not have finished this if I had been reading it by myself, but it's not really an option to give up half way through a book you are sharing with someone else. And it is very rewarding, full of jokes and observations about life - and also full of food: great banquets, intimate dinners, sly digs. And the story - love, ambition, power - goes at a cracking pace.

Disraeli was once at a tedious great dinner where he was served champagne between courses: "Thank God for something warm," he famously said. Here's an extract from Coningsby, published in 1844, which puts me to shame, because I often forget to warm the plates.

Lord Monmouth's dinners at Paris were celebrated. It was generally agreed that they had no rivals; yet there were others who had as skilful cooks, others who, for such a purpose, were equally profuse in their expenditure. What, then, was the secret spell of his success? The simplest in the world, though no one seemed aware of it. His Lordship's plates were always hot; whereas at Paris, in the best appointed houses, and at dinners which, for costly materials and admirable art in their preparation, cannot be surpassed, the effect is always considerably lessened, and by a mode the most mortifying: by the mere circumstance that every one at a French dinner is served on a cold plate.

(He goes on to say that the reason for this is that French plates are made of inferior pottery, rather than the superior China of English plates, and suggests that there would be gastronomic improvements (not to mention commercial advantages) on both sides of the Channel if we sold the French plates, and they sold us their capital wines.)

So, do YOU warm your plates?


barb said...

and here I thought the French were more civilized than that ;)

I do heat my plates when serving guests and then depending on the meal.

Joanna said...

Yes ... I wonder if it's still true? I always mean to heat the plates, but often only think of it at the moment I should be dishing up! Some food really demands that you heat the plates .. but just think of a wilting salad on one of Lord Monmouth's plates!


Ros said...

I usually try to warm my plates but sometimes they end up far too hot. I think my square plate is on the verge of cracking with all the warming and cooling it goes through.