These all mean the same thing – they are things for eating food from.
By Marilyn Sheridan, in Home & Garden · 13 Aug 2021, 01:00 · 0 Comments
In medieval times, people didn’t have plates to eat from at all - they had something called a ‘trencher’, a flat round slice of usually stale bread, that would soak up the remains of their dinner and could either be eaten with sauce after the meal or given away to the poor to eat.
This sounds like my kind of plate – no washing-up! This flat plate concept still exists today in only one form - a cheeseboard - a plate without a lip or raised edge as it isn’t needed to contain fluid.
But what did people eat from before the creation of plates? Some manner of primitive bowls? Did people eat straight from the pot? After ‘straight from the pot’, I guess bowls were next. The oldest found is of Chinese origin dating back 18,000 years. Plates came second, with the earliest mention of “plate” being over 800 years ago.
Plates evolved from these simple ideas, which are usually referred to as ‘china’ plates, but can be made from a wide range of basic materials – earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, bone china – even plastics. Until about a hundred years or so ago, China was streets ahead of the West in terms of ceramic technology, and they were the only ones who could make porcelain. As a result, porcelain was called ‘China ware’ or just ‘China’ and the name stuck. Some are cheap as chips to replace, others could cost an arm and a leg.
Crockery as we know it starts with earthenware, traditionally made from red earthenware clay or red terracotta. It is heavy, sturdy and casual and is usually fired below 2012F, and after firing, the ceramic body is porous and often glazed to make it waterproof.
Stoneware is similar, but made from denser clay that is fired at a higher temperature. This results in a more durable material, with a stone-like quality. The finished product is waterproof and unlike earthenware, does not need to be glazed. It is not as refined and delicate as porcelain, being a sturdier, thicker product, often favoured by restaurants for its durability.
Porcelain itself has an incredible durability resulting from the high firing temperature. The exact composition of porcelain varies depending on its use and the manufacturer.
It is more expensive because making porcelain truly is an art form.
Devising the mix of kaolin - soft white clay - and other ingredients, shaping a plate to a delicate edge, glazing it, firing it, and creating a nearly translucent product, is incredibly difficult. It is fired at a high heat to become hard, and if that sounds a lot like how ceramics are made, you’re correct, but the firing temperature is around 2250F.
Porcelain is technically a specialised subset of ceramics, both are made of clay and kiln-fired, but the raw materials are different.
Finally, there is bone china, which contains – yes you guessed it - bone. Lightweight, durable and usually the most expensive, the highest quality bone china should contain at least 30% bone ash, and is higher priced thanks to the pricier materials and the extra labour needed in making it. Bone china is stronger than it appears to be. The bone content makes it thinner and smoother than regular porcelain, giving it a creamy, white colour and opaqueness. But not all bone china is created equal—the quality depends on how much bone is in the mixture. Hold a piece of bone china up to a light and place your hand behind it. If it’s the real McCoy, you should be able to see the shadow of your fingers through the translucent china.
Charger Plates are something that always baffled me, but they are designed for use in formal table settings to catch pieces of food and prevent spills and messes falling on the table and staining the tablecloth (saving on laundry costs – I like that idea!). They also help to retain the heat in dinnerware since they are placed directly underneath plates and bowls, but if I am honest, food doesn’t linger long enough on my plate to get cold.