In the autumn of 1621, the Plymouth community and the Wampanoag Indians celebrated a harvest feast. A longstanding event in Native American culture, the harvest feast was also known as the Thanksgiving celebration.
The 1621 harvest feast offered lots of meat and very few vegetables. Forks were not used and the most prominent person at the table was seated at the head of the table, positioned closest to the food.
For your Thanksgiving meal, you’ll want to invite friends and family and offer turkey with all the fixins. You may even serve it on your best china or your grandmother’s beloved serving pieces. If you are displaying vintage china, here are some tips for making the event special.
Beware of lead
Some antique and vintage china may contain lead, and lead leaching can be toxic. Some of the old glazes used on pre-1900 china may contain lead. Often, highly decorated or multi-colored china may have lead glazes. Damaged, chipped, cracked or crazed (that funny zigzag pattern in the colorless glaze) china may allow lead to leach and contaminate food. So, if you have damaged pieces, don’t use them in the preparation or service of food. It is better to use them for display purposes only.
It is common knowledge that grandma’s antique china should not be used in the microwave or dishwasher, but it is also a bad idea to place an old piece of china in the refrigerator piled high with leftovers. Why? Storing your leftovers in the refrigerator on an old decorated china plate is not good for the life span of the antique nor is it good for you once you re-serve those leftovers. The plate is fragile and cooling will impact its overall condition. Also, lead can leach from china in the refrigerator that is hosting foods high in acidity. Thus, a piece of lead glazed or lead decorated antique china that experiences a significant temperature change (as with cooling) may leach. If you must eat off of your antique china or vintage ceramic dishware, don’t do so regularly.
Basic white china may be the safest type for your family and pets. It is not wise to eat off of china with painted or metallic decorations — like gold leaf or silver banding. And, if you are in the practice of using an old ceramic bowl to feed your pets, make sure these antique or vintage ceramic pieces are not damaged in any way.
So, if you want to highlight your grandmother’s china, it is best to display the pieces as a holiday centerpiece, in a china cabinet or on the Thanksgiving buffet table hosting flowers.
Lori Verderame is an antiques appraiser, nationally syndicated columnist and author, and award-winning TV personality.