My French Pottery
A while back, a reader suggested that I do a post about my pottery collection. When I told Romain about it he looked surprised and said that it wasn’t a collection but just stacks of pottery. However it’s considered in the world of les collectionneurs that if you have three or more of any object, that’s a collection. And I certainly have more than three items in my apartment!
I never intended to start collecting plates, platters and bowls in France. (Which I am lumping into the general term of poterie, although a lot of it could be classified as dinnerware.) I would go to flea markets and see old bowls, some showing their age, some salvaged from bistros that perhaps met their demise, and pick them up for whatever I could negotiate them for. Many perhaps are long-forgotten relics found in attics, or people getting rid of their old things, who prefer things new.
I like the forms of older French pottery and dinnerware; the graceful, elongated oval serving platters with deep wells to hold food and any accompanying sauce. I can’t seem to have enough big, heavy bowls and sturdy oval gratin dishes, ones that might have once held a grandmother’s pride and joy, a gratin dauphinois. And I search out platters that might have held the family meal, or dinner plates hefted by garçons in neighborhood restaurants.
Almost everything that I have, I’ve picked up at random flea markets or antique shops across France. While there are some nice places to shop in Paris for new and old, once you hit the countryside, there are a lot more things to choose from and the prices are much, much more attractive. So I can’t tell you where to get most of these things, but you can check out my post Paris Flea Markets and Thrift Stores and Antiquing Outside of Paris for more information and links on how to find out where and when they are. (There are some places listed in the post, Tour de France, about halfway down the page, of places in the countryside that we’ve stumbled on where I found some treasures, too.)
While it’s nice to find things in good condition, sometimes objects that show their age appeal to me. I don’t buy things with hairline cracks since you can’t really use them for cooking or serving. And everything I have, I use. The dish just below we used when shooting My Paris Kitchen for the leeks vinaigrette, the classic that I tried to riff off of, but my Parisian partner would hear nothing of the sort. Of course, I won that round – or octagon – because it was my Paris kitchen : ) Maybe next up is Our Paris Kitchen? But until then…
A certain amount of pottery sold in France isn’t made in France, but made in North Africa and other countries. I suspect the mustard-yellow bowl at the top of the post is from Tunisia or that part of the world. But the generous bowl, below, with the wild lines of dots that I bought in Provence for €10, I am pretty sure is all French. I love it because it’s wide enough to hold fruits in a single layer, like peaches and pears, which should be given their own space, not piled up, so they don’t bruise and so that each can enter the world on their own, when they are ready, independently. When I buy fruit, I take great pains to ripen it properly and I’d say 95% of the incoming from chez moi goes into this bowl, which weighs a ton.
The bowl below I bought in Hyères when I was visiting the Villa Noailles. A shop called Mediterraneo had some massive mortars and pestles, as well as stacks of colorful pottery, including this bowl that I use often for olives, from Le Potier in Marseilles. I like the colors and the fluted form of the bowl, with reminds me of the famed Provençal tian.
On the other end of the scale, I picked up four of these brown bowls (just below) for €1 each at a C’est deux euros around the time I moved to France. I thought they were a great bargain, but later learned that they are pretty common and are similar to the terre cuite (earthenware) dishes that you sometimes get when you buy cheese in France, like Saint-Felicien, which are included in the price. So I suspect they don’t cost all that much. (A friend told me that when he moved to France, he returned the dish a few days later to the surprise of the people at the fromagerie, on the assumption that they would reuse it.) They’re being replaced by plastic for selling the cheeses, unfortunately, perhaps for reasons of économie or hygiène?
I use these bowls daily as I like the deepness of them. And due to the price, I’m not concerned about breakage. One issue is that the bottoms aren’t glazed so I can’t stack them up in the cabinet unless they are absolutely dry. I’ve discovered they grow beards faster than I do.
I’m big on the Heure de l’apéro, or the appetizer hour, when drinks are served before dinner. So I stock up on little bowls, like the one below, which I use for things like olives and nuts. The French tend to nibble on appetizers before dinner, unlike me, who will go through a whole bowl of just about anything put in front of me. The French like to put out potato chips, which is something I don’t buy at home (because I will eat them all in one go), so when given the chance – well, let’s just say that you don’t want to get in the path between me and a bowl of chips!
The green bowl below, I got in Sicily, which has a lovely lip, whose shape reminds me of the Provençal tian. They were €10 each and I got three or four. Underneath it are some French plates that I like. The older ones with the clovers are pretty, but I’m more of a modernist and like clean designs and shapes, so of course, I love the soup bowls (which the French call assiettes à soupe, or soup plates, not bowls) just underneath. Unfortunately they’re pretty fragile and most are chipped or cracked. I’m hoping they hold out a while longer.
One thing, or things, that I’m really hooked on are mortars and pestles. I have a few that I use in everyday cooking, but I can never resist these jumbo white ones. They’re super heavy and I have one that is literally over a foot wide that is so heavy, I can barely lift it. Someone working in my apartment chipped it, which irked me more than the rest of the things he destroyed. Grrr.
I like them all, but especially like the teeny one to the right, which may have been part of some children’s set. In France, kid’s toy stores often have miniature kitchen items and they’re totally adorable. (One interesting kid’s shop is Filament, near the Bastille. But there are tons in Paris.) I love anything in miniature. But mini French cookware? Swoon.
The colorful greenish/blue bowls are from a potter in the Camargue. It’s a somewhat wild, rugged part of France, known for salt and pink flamingos. They’re from the fabulous La Tuile à Loup in Paris, which also sells cassoles, the cassoulet bowls that visitors often ask me about buying in Paris.
Crackle glazes to me are beautiful and the crackled oval dish above was filthy when I got it. I pulled it off the bottom shelf of some antique store in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t cracked or chipped and I think I paid €6 for it. After a good scrubbing, I think it’s beautiful, again.
The dishes, below, I picked them up in Pantelleria, Sicily, and was attracted to their wild colors. I got them in a small shop in the main town and loved the bold patterns. I don’t use them much in Paris as their colors seems more fitting to a Sicilian meal. But it’s nice to have a constant reminder of one of my favorite places in the world.
The green dishes, above, are available in a lovely blue and white splatter pattern from Naturaintasca, the cooking school and website of my friend Fabrizia Lanza. I’m not sure about how far they ship, but if you put in an order, I highly recommend adding some of her amazing tomato paste and zibibbo elixir, a grape “honey” made by reducing the sweet, spicy juices of muscat grapes.
The dishes below have a special name in French. The name is so obscure that it escapes me, but I’ll update the post when (and if) I remember it. (Update: They’re called raviers.) I LOVE the shapes of them, and they make food for the blog look nice when I take vertical pictures, like cookies or this cranberry sauce with candied oranges that I snuck in last year. It was the day before Thanksgiving and I was racing around trying to find a nice bowl to put the sauce in, that I wanted to share before the big holiday. So far, no one’s complained about me using chipped plates in photos. If I was better at Photoshop, I could probably clean them up. But the chips and dings don’t bother me.
This three-colored wacky bowl, or more likely a dish, I picked up at Emmaüs, a benevolent organization with is the French equivalent of a Goodwill or Salvation Army store. They have some stores in Paris – one at 22 boulevard Beaumarchais and another at 52 rue de Charonne (as well as others) which are worth poking around in. I got a huge cassoulet bowl at one for €5, which I chanced upon. But they have some stores outside of Paris that are worth shlepping out to, however it’s best if you have a car. (We have a station wagon which has lots of space, which is dangerous if you’re trying to watch how much stuff you buy.)
The dish is made by Gien, which is still in operation, but it’s their older stuff I like. And since I’m a modernist, this appealed to me. I thought I would use it on the blog but I think the colors might not make food look so good, so I haven’t used it yet. Any ideas appreciated!
These small oval plates I think were once popular in France, because I see them often at flea markets. I try to find them in good condition with traditional, classic, patterns on them. Some have rose appliques and things like that, which don’t interest me. But I like patterns like the one below, which seem so unique to France, with the red, white and blue color scheme.
Interesting tidbit: When I was redesigning my site a while back, I suggested that we use a red, white and blue theme for the logo and my designer at the time (in the U.S.), didn’t get it. I told him those were the colors of the French flag. Not convinced he should use them, he did an informal survey of other web designers and they all asked the same thing: Is David Lebovitz running for public office?
The tricolore in my logo got nixed.
Sometimes, you just come across things like these brown, earthy oval bowls, all in perfect condition, stacked together at the flea market in the middle of the Marché d’Aligre. When at flea markets, if someone is unpacking their truck and people are furiously gathered around, you can be pretty sure there is something worthwhile there. (If so, I let them clamor and check out the things they don’t want, which are often more interesting to me.) These bowls were just sitting there, unattended. I think to many French people, they’re such everyday items that they’re not so interesting. But I scooped them up for less than €10 for the set.
They make nice serving bowls and use them as such, for green olive tapenade and croutons perhaps. I know they are oven proof, but they’re in such good condition, that I put them in the “too good to use” category, and haven’t cooked anything in them – yet.
You sometimes see perforated dishes for sale in France and are good to use when serving just-washed berries, grapes or cherries so the fruits don’t sit in water. The white oval bowls below it, I think I have about ten of since I like their simple white shape. Everything looks good on them and they let whatever is in them shine. Plus they’re very sturdy; I’ve never broken or chipped one, and usually pick them up when I see them for €5 or so.
I got this mini bowl at a place that was appropriately called the Caverne d’Ali Baba way out in the middle of nowhere during one of our road trips. I like the colors. Not sure where it’s from, but I also picked up an enormous cutting board (that was €9) that is literally a blocky 3-inches thick, at the same store that was so packed with stuff that it was hard to walk around in. I wasn’t sure if I should buy it so put a picture of it on Instagram asking whether I should, and the responses were a resounding –Yes!
I am somewhat obsessed with French white café au lait bowls. I’ve mentioned a bit before how when you go to a café in Paris and order a café au lait, what you’ll actually get is a café crème – café au lait is served in a bowl, at home. (Perhaps it’s considered unseemly to be gulping coffee out of a bowl in a Parisian café, although some places – like Cuisine de Bar – does serve their cafés au lait in bowls.) But all that nomenclature is fluid and I’ve had things that people have called an espresso, that looked (and tasted) nothing like the original.
You can still get these today, made by Pillivuyt and even in France, they’re a bit spendy at about €9 a bowl in France. (They sell them at A. Simon in Les Halles, in Paris.) You can get them online in the United States, although the BIA Cordon Bleu ones are more affordable. I have some of the new ones, but when I was in a dépôt-vente (antique shop) in the middle of nowhere, and saw eight of these misshapen bowls on a shelf, in spite of the chips and dings (I think they were around €8 each), I bought them all. I couldn’t resist.
As you can tell, I like this shape. I think the larger ones were made for either mixing paint pigments or by pharmacists to grind medicines. My local pharmacy had three on display in the window – and I want them!
The tiny one, in the foreground, I’m not sure what that was originally intended for, but I often drink my afternoon café express out of one. I have about twenty of them that I found together at the flea market, that were of varying shapes – perhaps they were the collection of someone else? When I see things together, I feel compelled to buy them all, to keep the collection together. It’s a sickness.
These little cassoulet bowls are something I use frequently. They were gifted to me by my friend Kate who lives in Gascony. They’re individual serving-sized, which makes them perfect for everything from soup or salad. The picture of Romain eating French onion soup with a stretch of cheese, in My Paris Kitchen, made my friend Meg exclaim “now that’s food porn.”
They’re very sturdy and made by NOT Frères, a pottery place I’ve always wanted to visit but seems so far from wherever I am in the south of France. You can find their larger ones at La Tuile à Loup and they sell the smaller ones at the Gascon stand in the Marché Saint-Germain. If we ever do that road trip down there, we’ll definitely fill the station wagon with them and perhaps have a little sale here!