Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ironstone - Dinnerware with Memories

“Here are the old white dinner platters Mother served roasts, stews, apple dumplings and roast chicken on,” I remarked, when I discovered them in a pantry closet. I was sorting belongings in the home where I’d spent my childhood.

My mom had developed Alzheimer’s, so we found it necessary to move her to our home 275 miles away. Finding these three large oval white ironstone platters, two chipped and well used, the other, a rectangular one with narrow brown border in better condition, brought back memories of foods served on them and the occasions Mother used them.

Ironstone has always interested me because I thought Mother’s large platters and a few other items she had were attractive. These were heavy and durable, and just right for serving a large family. There were seven or eight of us at meals, unless friends or relatives stopped by to add to the crowd.

History of Ironstone

This type of dinnerware, opaque earthenware, first was produced in the early 1800s. It originally substituted for costly Chinese porcelain and bone china. Ironstone, a utilitarian ware, was very durable and not easily chipped.

Much ironstone was undecorated and designed in angular and octagonal shapes popular between 1840 and 1860. Potters began making American ironstone in quantity in the 1860s.

Usually ironstone carried the name of the maker and often had the word Ironstone, Opaque china, Stone china, or Granite imprinted on the back. There is nothing on Mother’s platters. Therefore, hers must have been very ordinary ironstone.

I don’t know where Mother acquired them. Were they wedding gifts? Or were they platters Grandma once used and handed on.?

Foods Served on Mother’s Ironstone

However, I recall some of the meals Mother served on these ironstone platters. These included pot roast, beef stew, chicken and dumplings, roast chicken, apple dumplings, baked ham and other foods.

Mother cooked these meals in the oven of the wood stove or on top. Some, such as stew, simmered in the black iron pot.

As I recall these meals, I also picture in my mind, our family sitting around the kitchen table…Father, Mother, four children, the hired man, and after World War II, my uncle who boarded with us. If a friend stopped by at meal time, there always was room for an extra plate.


Brown 1 pound ground beef and ½ to 1 diced onion. Add 1 can cream of mushroom soup (low salt and low fat if you’re watching these items in your diet). Simmer at least 10 minutes. Just before serving, stir in ¾ cup sour cream and heat until warm.

Place steamed rice on the ironstone platter, which has been warmed. Then pour the stroganoff over this. You also can use noodles or mashed potatoes.

©2006 Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen researches and writes about foods and food history from her home in New Hampshire, USA or while traveling.)


Jean Bowler said...

What nice memories, Mary Emma.

I inherited my mother's silverware and one tea cup. My five brothers and sisters have the rest of her dinnerware and serving pieces because they have larger families.

It pleases me that they are still being used. It also makes it special to eat at their homes. Boy does that bring back memories.

Mary Emma Allen said...

Thanks, Jean, for stopping by and sharing your memories. We need to write them down, too, so that it refreshes our memories and leaves a heritage for current and future generations. I'm teaching a class at our local library, "Writing Your Family Stories, " to encourage people to do this...write down the stories and memories so they aren't forgotten. I also teach this class online.

Jean Bowler said...

Where can I find out about the online class?

Mary Emma Allen said...

Hi Jean,
I'll get my online class set up again and let you know where to find information about it. I taught this class through another's web site before, but that site is no longer doing classes.

I'll set something up very soon since there's interest.