Serveware is so appropriately named. It comes from the Latin servire (meaning “to serve”) and the Old English waru (meaning “something taken care of”).
Essential serveware varies from family to family, depending on their lifestyles and entertainment needs. However, there are multi-purpose serving pieces that can be used regularly year-round, as well as for occasional dinner parties, or informal gatherings. If you choose serveware that’s classic, practical, and versatile, you’ll always have the right serving dishes and utensils, whether it’s for a barbecue or Thanksgiving dinner.
Here’s a list of essential serveware that will meet your needs.
1. Several Small and Medium-Sized Porcelain or Ceramic Bowls
These bowls are the most essential and versatile. The small ones can be used for appetizers, such as olives and nuts, or for sauces and toppings. They’re also good for soups or fresh fruit. The medium-sized bowls are great for serving side dishes, such as a leafy salads, pasta, rice, biscuits, dinner rolls, or bread. To add a nice touch, fold a towel or cloth napkin over the biscuits or rolls to keep them warm.
Buying these bowls in white will make it easy to match any china pattern. You can find them anywhere, even garage and estate sales. Creating a collection of different brands, as long as they’re all white, will add some interest to your serveware.
2. One Large Wide Porcelain or Ceramic Bowl
This is a serving bowl you can use for your main meal, such as a grain salad or pasta dish. Here’s a great opportunity to add some color or a pattern to your collection. Make sure the bowl is at least twelve inches in diameter. You can even indulge your love of serveware and buy a designer brand. Don’t hide this bowl in the cupboard after your meal — put it on display on a countertop and add some fruit to it.
3. One Large Wooden Bowl
Wooden bowls look as good on a picnic table as they do on the family dinner table. They blend in with casual paper plates and cups, and yet have a classic elegance that mixes well with stoneware, ceramic ware, and glass tableware. Salads are most often served in large wooden bowls, and some people claim they even make the salads taste better. Other foods can be served in them as well, such as pasta, rice, potatoes, and cooked vegetables. You can even display fruits in them on the dining table or kitchen counter.
Wooden bowls need proper care to stay in good condition. Buy one that’s made from cherry, black walnut, maple, teak, olive, acacia, or bamboo. After use, wipe it out with a damp cloth, or give it a quick wash in warm soapy water. Then promptly dry it with a soft dishtowel. To maintain the wood, rub the bowl lightly inside and out with a food-quality mineral oil, or a beeswax wood finish. If cared for properly, your wooden bowl can become a family heirloom.
4. Square or Rectangular Platters
Get more than one of these because they’re so versatile. You can serve desserts such as cake and cookies on them, as well as appetizers like cheese, fruit, or veggies, sandwiches, grilled vegetables, and even main dishes, such as a small roast.
5. Oval Platter
Also versatile, this is the platter for serving fish, roasted vegetables, burgers, and any big meat dish such as turkey, a roast, or a whole chicken. For parties, set up the platter as a cheese tray, a veggie tray, a fruit tray, or a charcuterie (cured or cooked meats) tray.
6. Cake or Pedestal Stand
Cake stands vary in height, diameter, material, and number of tiers. Some come with domes. But they’re not just for cakes. You can use them to display cupcakes, desserts, candies, cookies, appetizers, or fruit. But no matter what you put on it, the added height on a table or sideboard always adds a touch of elegance. For a more casual look, the plastic ones with domes are perfect for outside meals, or sitting on a countertop.
Buy two cake stands if you can — one small and one large. If you can only get one, buy the eleven inch. Make sure any stand you buy can hold the weight of the cake or the food you’re displaying.
7. Cheese Boards
A cheese board gets a lot of use, so you’ll want to get two of them. They’re great for serving appetizers, such as cheese, crackers, bread, bagels, and fruit. There are different shapes and sizes to choose from, made of wood, marble, and slate. What you choose to buy depends on personal preference, and how you intend to use them. A larger size is better for parties, while a cheese board under a foot long is better for serving one or two people.
Usually wood is the easiest to clean, while slate and marble with their cooler surfaces help keep the food stay chilled longer. All of these materials are hand-wash-only.
8. Water Pitcher or Carafe
A water pitcher or carafe on the table makes it easy for your family or guests to serve themselves, and saves you from having to get up to refill glasses. There are styles, shapes and patterns to suit every occasion. Put out a crystal pitcher for more formal dinners, or a French carafe for family meals. During meal preparation, put a pitcher or carafe with water into the fridge, and it will be cold by the time dinner is served. Then add some lemon or cucumber to complement the food. Pitchers and carafes can also be used to hold juice and wine, as well as doubling as flower vases.
9. Serving Utensils
You’ll need a couple of stainless steel serving spoons, one of them slotted, as well as a serving fork and salad tongs. Use slotted spoons to serve sides, such as peas, corn, green beans, and other veggies, as the slots will allow liquid to drain out and not end up on the plate. Salad tongs make it easy to serve the salad, without having to scrape two forks around inside a nice bowl. The serving spoons are good for scooping all sorts of food, such as mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, and grain salads. And your serving fork serves everything from sliced meat to roasted vegetables.
The serving fork and spoon can also be used together as tongs to serve such food as pasta, chicken legs, rolls, sliced meat, and fish.
And while this isn’t, strictly speaking, in the category of essential serveware, cheese enthusiasts will want a good set of cheese knives.
10. Small Appetizer Plates
These are essential at a gathering if people are wandering around with their food. And your guests will feel spoiled when you serve appetizers on real plates. These plates can also be used to serve salads and desserts.
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