From Rags to Riches
Open the cabinets in most kitchens and you find the same sort of stuff. Neatly stacked tins and packages containing foodstuffs and another one filled with baking necessities. One cupboard will contain all that is needed to make hot drinks, tea, coffee, hot chocolate and yet another will contain cups, mugs and glassware. More cupboards and drawers will have a selection of pots and pans, bowls of assorted sizes and usually a huge drawer stuffed with all sorts of utensils for any kind of cooking that is likely to take place.
China cupboards hold several sorts of household dishes, everyday ware that is used for most meals, nicer stuff that we bring out for guests and the “real” china that we don’t use too often because we are scared of spoiling it. I don’t like to put mine in the dishwasher in case it chips, I can’t put it in the microwave as it has gold trim that sparks in an alarming way. So, generally it sits there looking pretty but unused, if fact a rather useless purchase that is only brought out for special occasions. My best friends get the regular stuff as I know they come to see me not the china, so why do I keep special stuff for people who I don’t really care for but feel I should impress????
My childhood, like that of most of my generation didn’t have kitchens that were fitted with cupboards. Most people had a couple of open shelves that contained almost everything that was needed for preparation of family meals. There was no fridge but a meat safe with a marble shelf which kept things cool.
Many people didn’t have electricity or it was a fairly new acquisition so very few electrical outlets were installed. If a kitchen had an outlet, it would be a solitary one so nobody was in a particular hurry to buy labour saving equipment. Cakes would be made in a bowl with a wooden spoon, if eggs needed to be beaten, out came the old rotary whisk or the wire whisk. Elbow grease was the driving force for all appliances in most homes.
Toast was usually made on the open fire, a long handled toasting fork and some patience would produce wonderfully toasted homemade bread which, when spread with real butter was really delicious. As more up to date ranges came along, a grill was usually the new place to toast bread.
When I was growing up the streets were filled with vendors who usually had a horse drawn cart. They brought mostly foodstuffs, veggies or fish but also carts with paraffin for oil lamps, candles and replacement wicks for gas burning lights. We also had one man who we called Johnny pots. He collected rags of any description and gave out dishes in exchange. The dishes he had were all second hand from “big” houses, the homes of who we considered the rich people. When he came into the street he would call out “pots for rags” and we would go running.
Most Lancashire people used heavy duty dishes that were decorated with the traditional blue and white rings. Almost everyone had the same blue and white mugs, flat plates and soup or dessert dishes. Our desserts were almost always some sort of pudding, ether a milk pudding or a sponge pudding with Bird’s custard, so a big, rounded dish was usually what was needed to serve the dessert in.
However, once the dish man appeared in the streets, our taste in china went up a notch. Hunting scenes were very popular on the “posh” plates, as were landscapes or fancy floral scenes. Very rarely could you manage to get more than a couple of the same pattern, but that didn’t matter, in fact it was preferable to get different designs, so everyone could claim their favourite plate.
I remember the first time I saw a soup mug, it had two handles and I claimed it for my own. I had everything served in it from soup, oatmeal or dessert. It had a smiling fox stretched out all round the outside and I loved it.
In those days, it was very unlikely that visitors stayed for a meal, they would usually get a cup of tea and a slice of home made cake, but went home for anything more substantial, so nobody I knew had “best” china. However, my grandma had a huge teapot. It was shiny black and was decorated in what she said was real gold leaf. It had been brought back from the Orient from one of her sons who was in the Merchant Navy, he brought numerous treasures that he always gave to my gran.
The teapot was never used, of course, but grandma said it was going to be left to the first person in the family who had red-headed twins. Many years later, I produced twins, one of which had auburn hair. By then grandma had gone to meet her maker and my bossy aunt, who took charge of everything, had disposed of the teapot along with everything else that my grandma held dear.
I guess we should not hoard our treasures but use and enjoy them while we can still get pleasure from them, other wise they will just go out with the garbage, sadly, the things that we hold dear mean very little to anyone else.