Archeological evidence indicates some of our Stone Age ancestors had already begun to dine on manufactured tableware. Diggings in a late Paleolithic campsite have unearthed animal bones, primitive cooking tools and, surprisingly, remnants of ceramic dishes. There was no evidence of soap or dish towels at the 20,000-year old barbecue site so we can only assume the primeval dishes were licked clean by the diners. There were also no surviving fragments of fortune cookies at the dig in Hunan, China.

Before cave people learned how to make pottery, food was served on shells or flat stones or were hand-to-mouth meals and every day was potluck day, serving whatever the hunters managed to bring home. On very bad days, sabertooth tigers dined on the hunters. I would rather have been a gatherer rather than a hunter back then. No one has ever been attacked and eaten by a blueberry bush or a mushroom patch.

Shakespeare mentions trenchers on the feasting tables of his characters. Trenchers were large slices of stale bread used as dinner plates. After the entree was finished the “plate” was soaked in sauce and eaten or it was given to the poor. Trenchers are making a comeback as bread bowls for soup. I’ve found, the hard way, that to avoid a mess, one must swallow the last spoonful of soup before starting to eat the bowl.

Pewter dishes have been popular for many years and might be the reason for the original unpopularity of tomatoes. Pewter is mostly tin with a dash of lead. It was feared the acid in tomatoes would leach out the lead and produce sickening salads. The tomato was therefore known then as the “deadly nightshade” which wouldn’t be a very inviting menu item. Imagine telling a diner waitress to bring you a bacon, lettuce and deadly nightshade on rye toast.

We have made significant strides to replace dish-licking since the Stone Age. We don’t hear complaints of “dishpan hands” since the introduction of dishwashing machines, labor-saving devices that are supposed to turn out sparkling tableware if you use the expensive washing and rinsing concoctions.

I am not altogether opposed to dish-licking. I wouldn’t do it in a restaurant, but at home when a favorite entree has been served and the last dollop consumed except for the residue on my plate. Well, what’s the big deal? It’s all in the family.

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