My grandmother, hailing from the highlands of Scotland, instilled in her family the importance of setting a good table. Even the simplest of family meals had to be served “correctly” on the appropriate plate, bowl or dish, which at the very least had to be colour-coordinated. I am also very particular about which dishes are used and what recipe looks best in which dish, as the concept of eating first with our eyes begins at the table.
Understanding the different types of tableware is important when making choices, and below are the basic differences. Note that the region from which the clay originates greatly influences the overall strength and propensity to chip. Invest in the best you can for your budget, love it and use it regularly to get the full enjoyment.
Ceramic tableware can be divided into four main groups: bone china, porcelain, stoneware and earthenware.
Bone China: Regarded as the highest quality, this was developed in England in the 1780s to compete with imported porcelain. It contains bone ash (usually cattle bone), is brilliant white and highly translucent, almost to the point of being slightly transparent. Although it looks and feels quite fragile it is surprisingly strong. Being fired at high temperatures makes it extremely hard and durable.
Porcelain: Has many of the qualities of bone china but does not contain any animal bone ash. It is particularly strong and is also very suitable for use in ovens and microwaves. Some vitreous porcelain has added aluminium for extra strength.
Stoneware: Is a halfway point in quality and strength between porcelain and earthenware,and if the right clay is used in production will be fully vitrified. As it is opaque it exhibits stone-like characteristics, is extremely strong and can be used in both ovens and microwaves.
Earthernware: The cheapest form of ceramic tableware, this is the most porous and is fired at low temperatures so is not very strong. It is always glazed to enable it to be used with food and often will have very intense colours because of the low firing temperatures. There are many different quality versions, such as dolomite and ironstone, with dolomite being the weakest. Not to be used in ovens.
Simple Chicken Soup
This is a favourite Nigel Slater recipe that is so easy to make and looks divine when served dressed up in a proper soup bowl sitting on a matching plate. Serves two as a main.
50g dried egg noodles
1 litre good chicken stock
200g cooked chicken, shredded
2 heaped tablespoons chopped mint
2 heaped tablespoons chopped coriander
juice of a lemon.
Cook noodles according to instructions, drain and rinse with cold water and put aside.
Bring chicken stock to boil, turn heat down to allow it to simmer. Add chicken, mint, coriander and lemon juice. Stir through cooked noodles, simmer for one minute and serve steaming hot.