Celebrate fathers, summer and dishes

By Cheramie Sonnier

Advocate Food editor

The school year is ending and summer fun beckons. What a perfect time for casual entertaining with barbecues, picnics and garden parties.

Need a reason to host a get-together? Take your theme from Memorial Day on May 28, Flag Day on June 14, the first day of summer on June 20, or the Fourth of July.

Father’s Day is June 17, and the Food staff would like to help you honor Dad or Grandpa. Celebrate Father’s Day by sharing your stories of cooking with your father and grandfather.

Submit your stories, recipes and photographs to food@theadvocate.com, or mail them to Food Section, The Advocate, P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821. Be sure to include a telephone number where we can reach you if we have questions. Deadline is June 8.

When hosting outdoor parties, many people use nonbreakable dishes or paper plates. However, there are those who prefer using pretty earthenware, pottery or casual china. They might even have “dish fever,” a weakness for acquiring attractive tableware. If you are among those folks, you will enjoy reading “Dish: 813 Colorful, Wonderful Dinner Plates” by House Beautiful features editor Shax Riegler (Artisan Books, hardcover, $35).

The 280-page book is filled with gorgeous, full-color photographs of beautifully or whimsically decorated dishes. It includes examples of both the new and old in tableware. In his book’s introduction, Riegler lists high points in the history of dishes from 1454 to 2011. One of my favorite entries in the timeline is 1617. That’s when Englishman Fynes Moryson writes in “An Itinerary,” which recounts his travels around Europe in the 1590s, that Italians “have no skill in the Art of Cookery.” He does, however, admire their “white glistering and painted dishes of earth.”

Riegler recounts lots of other historical tidbits, such as “for a long time diners at banquets did not get their own plate — two people seated next to each other would have to share.” It wasn’t until the 16th century when rules of etiquette developed at the French court decreed separate dishes for everyone at the table.

The book, organized by themes, features both rare, costly plates and mass-produced, inexpensive ones. Riegler offers tips on washing, storing and repairing dishes; discusses the 100 most popular patterns; and tells how to decode backstamps on dishes. He notes “the name on the back may identify the pattern, but very often it refers to the plate shape.” That information solved a mystery for me — why dishes I occasionally see in antique stores marked with the name on my grandmother’s china bear no resemblance to its pattern.

This is a fascinating book sure to please any “dish person.”

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.