As our lives have become both more harried and more informal, table settings have become simpler. I don’t mean everyone is using paper plates, though I am sure many households use them more often than not. But there do seem to be fewer plates and bowls on the home table than a generation or so ago. Bread plates, pickle dishes, salt cellars, and sauce boats are not quite things of the past but neither are they part of our daily meals. Even we potters who love table settings probably set our tables with dinner plates and salad or soup bowls and a few serving dishes and leave it at that. After all, we have to clean up just like everyone else.
So I was intrigued when I saw French fries served in parchment paper cones in special metal and ceramic cups in the pages of a glossy food magazine, and then on the cover of – yes, believe it, a French fry cookbook – and again in another magazine, all within a few days. Fast food restaurants have been serving fries in individual paper bags or little cardboard cups forever. How classy to serve them in real dishes, specially made, on a finely set table! I was intrigued.
I decided to make some myself. I happily threw a bunch, somewhat larger than a generous mug with slightly curved sides and subtly outward turned lip, all matching. They fired nicely. They would, I thought, look lovely with golden fried potatoes held upright within their walls. The beauty of it — a bouquet of string potatoes!
But after making them, I wasn’t sure what to call these new pots. I had to call them something or no one would know that they were for fries. Google offers French fry cups, French fry holders and fry cups. I suppose fry cup is best, but it seems a bit inadequate. If we are asking cooks to serve a very humble and ubiquitous food in a special dish, that dish needs a special name.
And then there is the question of where the thing belongs on the table. To the right of the dinner plate? The left? I think the top center, which would make it convenient for the diner, but really I have no idea what Miss Manners would say. Has Miss Manners heard of a French fry cup, handmade by her local potter?
The parchment paper is an even more complicated matter. I love the stuff. Who doesn’t? It feels nice, works great for baking, and is absorbent. It seems that everyone is using it these days. In fact, there is a whole cookbook devoted to parchment paper being published this fall. But you buy the paper in rolls. One has to take out scissors and cut it into half circles to make those little cones that look so attractive in the Fry cups. Right. Just what the home cook wants to do after a week at the office or shop and guests at the door.
Oh, and now I understand why some Chinese restaurants have plastic food in their windows. If I had plastic French Fries, I could put them into my parchment paper lined hand-thrown cups cups and everyone would know what they are for. But I don’t have plastic French Fries and I am not sure they would look that great in my pots anyway. Real fries would look great, but they wouldn’t last long because I would eat them. And if I didn’t, they would get cold and soggy and look horrid and I would have to dump them into the compost heap.
A small sign will have to do. And I guess Fry Cup will be the name.
Conclusion: As classy as they look in magazines and on the covers of specialty cookbooks, I fear Americans will not embrace hand made fry cups. Oh, their tables would look tastefully look-at-me. Pretty. Very pretty. Guests would be dazzled. But if I have to explain what exactly these pots are for, and they have to buy one per person and cut parchment paper half-circles for each, well, no, they are not going to put fry cups on their wish list. Nice idea. Fun to imagine oneself doing. No takers.
So, I will likely end up with a party load of fry cups. I will bedazzle my guests. I have enough to feed a good crowd, each person with his or her own fry cup placed elegantly above his or her dinner plate. Oh, how impressive and lovely!
Except I don’t recall ever serving guests French fries.
I could forget the fries and call these new little pots, um, – parfait cups! Yes, parfait cups. Or tumblers. Or, how about table vases, a little cluster of flowers at each place setting.