Tableware from the Middle Ages to the present day

Gathering around a table has always been a moment of celebration and conviviality, among the nobles, the bourgeoisie and the country people. From the central room that was the kitchen to our current dining rooms, Jacqueline Queneau and Christine Fleurent show us the evolution of " Tableware from the Middle Ages to the present day ».

From the Middle Ages to the present day

In the Middle Ages, the central point was the fireplace, a multitude of servants were present for each task, the tables were simple planks placed on trestles, we washed our hands "to the sound of the horn", the spoon was passed around. in hand and mouth to mouth, the meat was caught with the first three fingers of the hand and placed on slices of bread serving as plates, the dishes being all presented on the table.

With the Renaissance, refinement is the order of the day. The kitchen is separate or far from the central reception room, dressers and chairs appear, towels of a respectable size (one meter by one meter) are used, the individual spoon and the round bowl-shaped plate are adopted. The vegetables arrive from distant lands. Sugar replaces honey.

Thanks to Louis XIV and Versailles, French gastronomy was born. The kitchens are completely separate and set up to the north so as not to spoil the meats. The stoves are transformed to work standing. The tables are decorated, the crockery is earthenware, the individual cutlery is present, but above all the dishes are lighter, the broth being the basis of this new cuisine with natural flavors, the vegetables find pride of place, the flour is there. to bind the sauces.

The dining room reappears in the Age of Enlightenment. The customs evolving with the Regent and Louis XV, the suppers are more intimate, the tables become fixed, the furniture transforms into “silent servants”. Table decorations are each more precious than the next thanks to the rise of Sèvres porcelain. The cooking is lighter, we keep the taste of the food intact, yet embellished with aphrodisiac spices…. It is also the appearance of diners in town and restaurants, then taverns.

The Siècle des Bourgeois, which goes from the Revolution to 1914, is a period of great revolution and novelty. The gas stove and the cast iron stove are born, the sterilization of food will allow a new kitchen. As production costs decrease, the fine tables are accessible to everyone. The “Russian-style” service appears: the dishes are brought in, the guests help themselves and the dishes are returned to the kitchen, and no longer left on the tables as in all previous periods. The centerpiece is thus free for new decorations including candelabra, porcelain objects, cups, natural flowers. Curiously, precedence returns with strict rules of placement and table behavior.

Finally, in our modern era, crockery becomes Art Deco, domesticity disappears, spaces are more airy, design is born with "formica", plastic, modern utensils. Opulence is no longer in order, health comes first, the cuisine is light and decorative as emphasized in the New Guides and pompous terms. Yet over time, the good old recipes reappear. To each his own!

Our opinion

Thanks to short and very clear texts, embellished with beautiful illustrations, the author traces the uses of the table or the art of hosting, mainly in the bourgeoisie and the nobility, with yet a little reminder for the lower social classes .

This is a very nice book where we discover the origin of certain dishes such as madeleine, sandwich or garnished bouquets. We are surprised by customs and ideas that can die hard, such as using the Nave to protect against poisoning or rejecting the fork for centuries. We also learn how the sideboard, the "restauran" or the famous Moulinex brand appeared, including the history of the first microwave ... which nevertheless weighed three hundred and forty kilograms and was two meters high! In short… a multitude of little stories, some funny, but above all very interesting.

A few words about the author

Jacqueline Queneau after pursuing studies in sociology and art history, became a specialist in the arts of the table, with the publication of "Tableware on the flea market" or "La Cuisine au feu de bois". Christine Fleurent, still life photographer, specializes in the art of living and works regularly for the women's press.

Tableware: Uses and customs from the Middle Ages to the present day, by Jacqueline Queneau. Edtions de la Martinière, April 2011.

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