Many decades ago I inherited a set of dishes which have been in my family (maternal side) for 80 years. This dinner ware was always used for family occasions like Christmas, Easter, special dinners etc. It belonged to the second wife of my maternal grandfather. My grandfather became a widower in the late 1930’s and had one son and five daughters. They all lived in a grand house on rue Filiatrault in Ville Saint-Laurent, all that remained of a fortune which disappeared in the 1930’s through mismanagement and the crash of 1929.
The story about this dinnerware and its provenance is interesting. My grandfather born in 1904 whose family had been considered very wealthy and he had attended private schools including the college Notre Dame on Queen Mary Road and had his own car in 1920 which was a luxury, in the imagination of the neighbours the family could not be considered less despite a reverse of fortune. His second wife also came from a former prominent family the LeCavalier who were social rivals in this small town, now a neighbourhood of Montreal.
When my grandfather remarried he was now working as a fireman and police officer he would become later head of the police for Ville Saint-Laurent. Having little money and for social reasons could not use what had belonged to his first wife, he had to make a show of what his new second wife brought with her, dowry and wedding gifts etc.
I remember many childhood Christmases in that house on rue Filiatrault and the trophy Moose head on the left side of the front door. It was a very nice place with formal rooms with columns and beautiful wood floors and a small study at the front were my grandfather read and met with his visitors, in later years it would become the TV room but he watched very few programs, there only was 2 French language channels then in black and white. He did watch the weekly television serials produced by Radio-Canada which are today classics of early television. But he listened to a lot of radio, news and other programming including everyday the agricultural news, though he was not living on a farm, many other relatives had farms including his own father who had a big tobacco farm just North of Montreal. Agriculture and land ownership in French Canada was a big status symbol.
So this dinner ware was cobbled together one piece at a time from powdered clothes detergent, I forget which brand but it seems it was Tide. The marketing ploy was to get women who had families and lots of clothes to wash to buy the big boxes of detergent and inside was a piece of dinner ware, you just collected them. This way his second wife, whom we always called Aunt and never grandmother because that would have been inappropriate to the memory of my maternal grandmother who had died in her early thirties of heart failure due to bearing far too many children.
The dishes were made in England by a Company called Empire, later bought by Staffordshire, the pattern is called York Maroon, not hand painted, it was mass produced. Of the original set of 12 dinner place settings only 8 survive to this day. Through the years many pieces were broken or chipped but considering its age it is amazing it survived at all. The pattern is discontinued but what is still available is worth about $15 for a dinner plate or luncheon plate as it is called, or $9. for a small bowl or $35 dollars for a sugar bowl or serving dish.
When my mother told me that she had this dinner service for me, initially I did not want it, I could not really remember it and wondered what would I do with it. We did have at the time 8 other dinner service. I am glad I have it now and it is a good souvenir of all those Christmas turkey luncheons with peas and mash potatoes, the turkey was always very good, the desserts and the Hershey Kiss chocolates a treat once a year, not allowed the rest of the year, Tante Fernande was the cook. Memories of my childhood and all my aunts and cousins on those times together and all the little traditions we had to observed, the singing of traditional Christmas songs and the Christmas Family benediction by my grandfather as the patriarch.
The last Christmas was 1968, my grandfather died in 1969 and after that the tradition simply fell apart. We still went to my father’s side of the Family for New Year’s but it was a different affair with none of the homey touches. In the 1970’s my family moved a lot and our Christmases tended to be in hotels with trees prepared by the hotel engineer and food from the hotel kitchen.
This year we will probably use Tante Fernande’s dinner service. We are having Bisque de Homard to start made from scratch, Tourtière which is a combination of veal, beef and pork and turkey with vegetables and of course Will’s Plum Pudding, the recipe by Nigel Slater flamed in Brandy. We had a taste test the other night with a small pudding he made, OMG is it ever good.
I hope you all enjoy your Holiday Season!