Homestead Kitchen – Ladies, A Plate

When Oma Jo, The Milk Maid’s grandmother, was seventy seven years old, she was persuaded to write her life story.

The resultant booklet, copied and bound, was distributed around the family and the Homestead copy is well-thumbed and a tad tatty now.  Written as she spoke, Oma Jo’s trademark no-nonsense, say-it-like-it-is style makes it compulsive reading.  It’s a warts and all look at a solid branch of the Homestead family tree, tracing her childhood, marriage, the birth of her four children, and her first forty years in  the village of Eenrum, Groningen in the Netherlands  through to the family’s move to, assimilation, and life in New Zealand.  Some of it is hard to read as Oma Jo wasn’t one to pull her punches, but she was also quick to laugh at herself and one story that we all heard many times before it was put into print was the story of The School Concert. 

“We went to the school concert with an empty plate because one of us had been told that we had to ‘bring a plate’.  No one said that we had to put food on the plate.  We got an enormous shock when we saw the amount of food people had brought to the concert and we probably got as big a shock when we saw it all disappear in a very short time at Suppertime.  I had never baked any cakes in my life as we had some excellent bakers in Eenrum…I soon learned!”

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Oh,  how we would roar with laughter; imagine not knowing what “Ladies, A Plate”  meant!  As time passed, however, we learnt that ours was not the only family with such a tale.  In fact, it seems that the whole bring a plate idea is one of those odd, cultural things that you grow up thinking everyone does the world over only to discover, a few months into your OE (Overseas Experience, another Kiwi/Aussie colloquialism) during a multi-cultural, slightly slurred conversation in a pub possibly called The Fox and Hounds,  it’s very much not.  

Although it’s not such a common phrase now having been eclipsed by the way trendier idea of Pot Luck, Ladies, A Plate (sometimes accompanied by Gents, A Bottle) formed the back bone of many a 21st birthday, anniversary, family reunion or community gatherings and as a concept is still very much in existence.  In a nutshell it means turning up with a plateful of finger food to grace the supper table.  Some people get invited places on the strength of their specialty dishes; some people’s specialties are the stuff of legends (Nana’s Chocolate Slice, Ann Matthew’s Pavlova and Irene Dee’s Asparagus Rolls to name but a few, and I am salivating as I type).  Having something you can whip up (never, never bought!) that looks good, tasted wonderful (oh, the humiliation should your plate remain untouched), is foolproof and, most importantly, is not someone else’s signature dish is a handy asset.

The following is the Homestead’s answer to this elusive dish; feel free to make it yours too.

apple cake

apple cake finsihed

As long as we never attend the same Do, we’re all good. 

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10 thoughts on “Homestead Kitchen – Ladies, A Plate

  1. What a great story!!! We have a number of those stories in our families as well, one the funniest and at the same time so significant was of an aunt who came to Canada as an 17 year old, not speaking one word of English. She started working in a launderette and learned a new language through the other girls she was working with…only to discover the reason why no one else seems to understand her… all her fellow workers were Ukrainian and she had learned the wrong language!! ( this was right after the WWII)
    My husband and I grew up in The Netherlands, travelled the world, lived in Canada and now in the USA…there are few moment of bewilderment and misinterpretation to recall as well ;0) So far, people are always helpful and understanding and secretly laughing their heads of ;0)
    And I love that Boerenbont plate!
    With love from Ohio, Johanna.

  2. The cake looks wonderful, and the recipe looks quite doable for someone like me – thank you!

    We are invited out I believe on the strength of our devilled eggs…people always look faintly disappointed if we arrive with something else. They look hopefully past our shoulders at the entrance in case we’ve got a mysterious extra family member carrying the expected eggs…

    Love the plate story from your Oma.

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