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