Friday, 22 March 2013

Chafing Dish

Once home, I knew I’d be determined to search until I found out what this piece of broken pottery was. I thought that strange little knob on the shard’s rim must give something away – and so it did.
Mudlarking Find: Rim Section of a Chafing Dish
The shard is quite big, its length 12cm. Yellow lead glaze covers the inside, a splash of green glaze under the handle where copper had been added looks almost accidentally placed.

Wheel made and well made with a deep robust rim and a stub protruding at right angles, all that remains of the handle. The knob rising from the rim above the handle has a small hole right through the middle, possibly where a stick had been placed before firing so this key part of the design kept its shape and place during firing.  I worked out fairly quickly  this shard came from a chafing dish, the only pottery boasting those rim knobs. Not sure where it was produced, it looks similar to the one below produced in Surrey/Hampshire borders or perhaps it was imported from France?
Chafing Dish 1550- 1700 Surrey Hampshire Ware (Museum of London) 
I immediately assumed it was a cooking vessel, similar to a pipkin or skillet.The description of the chafing dish in this picture throwing me somewhat ‘Diego Velazquez portraying an old woman poaching eggs in a glazed earthenware chafing dish over charcoal’ (Wiki) 
Diego Velazquez Woman Cooking Eggs 1618 (National Gallery of Scotland) 
I now reckon the earthenware pot, is just an earthenware pot and the chafing dish is beneath. So if I’m right – the chafing dish held the charcoal coals and not the food. Several chafing dishes I’ve tracked down seem to have holes or slits at the bottom, presumably to keep the coals bathed in oxygen and burning.
Chafing Dish Surrey Hampshire Boarders 1550- 1700 (Museum of London) 
Plates where placed on top, resting on the 4-8 knobs around the rim, to warm food or to cook food which required this type of gentle treatment. I’m assuming the gaps allowed hot air and fumes to escape, at the same time prevented the plates from overheating. They seem to be referred to as braziers in the States.

A recipe from the 1545 ‘New Booke of Cokerye’ mentions them
ake a dyche of rosewater and a dyshe full of suger, and set them upon a chafyngdysh, and let them boyle, then take the yolkes of vii or ix egges newe layde and putte them therto everyone, and so let them harden a lytle, and so after this maner serve them forthe and cast a little synamon and sugar upon them. (

Like the skillet they seem to have been introduced from early Tudor times around 1480. A device that could be brought to the table to keep food warm, as described rather vividly in Wiki

‘ In 1520, Hernan Cortez reported to Charles V the manner in which Montezuma was served meals in  Tenochtitlan (now Mexico)
"He was served in the following manner: Every day as soon as it was light, six hundred nobles and men of rank were in attendance at the palace, who either sat, or walked about the halls and galleries, and passed their time in conversation, but without entering the apartment where his person was. The servants and attendants of these nobles remained in the court-yards, of which there were two or three of great extent, and in the adjoining street, which was also very spacious. They all remained in attendance from morning until night; and when his meals were served, the nobles were likewise served with equal profusion, and their servants and secretaries also had their allowance. Daily his larder and wine-cellar were open to all who wished to eat or drink. The meals were served by three or four hundred youths, who brought on an infinite variety of dishes; indeed, whenever he dined or supped, the table was loaded with every kind of flesh, fish, fruits, and vegetables that the country produced. As the climate is cold, they put a chafing-dish with live coals under every plate and dish, to keep them warm..." Gareth Dean, Medieval York 2008:140.


  1. That's really interesting, I probably wouldn't have picked that piece up! (Mmmm, rosewater custard...)

  2. Lovely history surrounding the chafing dish... And a delicious recipe to boot. Great blog post as always. :)