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OBSESSION: SCRIMSHAW PLATES

I’m not an impulse shopper. But these fabulous melamine plates ($35 for a set of four) at the smartly curated Mxyplyzyk, in the West Village, were impossible to resist.

I had to have them. And I’ll probably have to go back tomorrow for the oval platter ($28) enlivened by a very fetching whale.

What sold me was the fact that I could envision all sorts of wonderful things to eat on them. Lobster rolls (the crustacean is at its best in the colder months). Crab cakes. Peel-your-own Maine shrimp.

Let’s move along into another season, shall we? (February always makes me impatient.) Chicken salad cradled in tender leaves of butterhead lettuce. Strawberry shortcake. The summer’s first BLTs. A perfect triangle of watermelon—or, better yet for these clever repros of the scrimshanders’ art—watermelon sorbet with chocolate seeds, a trompe l’oeil triumph by my former Gourmet colleague Kempy Minfie. I mean, the two were made for one another.

The other reason I bought the plates was that they remind me of boats and of the joy of exploring islands.  They made me reach for one of my favorite childhood reads, Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome, a master storyteller.

My original copy, handed down to me by my mother, was published in the 1930s. By the time it fell apart, it must have been read a thousand times. It just now occurs to me that the book’s depiction of intrepid, self-reliant children and their adventures on Wild Cat Island, in the Lake District of England, probably influenced my mother’s child-rearing methods more than Benjamin Spock did.

A couple of years ago, a friend visiting from London brought me a new edition, published in the U.K. by Jonathan Cape. The endpapers conjure the same mood as my set of scrimshaw plates. They both make me want to go camp on an island, any island. Even Manhattan.

Comments

Comment from Missy Trainer
Time February 16, 2011 at 6:51 am

Jane, Thanks for the tip on this book. We have not read it, but my thirteen year old son LOVES to sail and my eight year old son simply loves outdoor adventure. I think I’ll bring this book forth. Thanks. Nice plates, too!

Comment from admin
Time February 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Dear Missy,
There are a number of books in the series, and they are great fun. The English editions have wonderful illustrations. I think Godine published at least some of them in paperback a year or so ago….

Comment from mcc
Time February 20, 2011 at 8:29 am

I grew up on the Swallows and Amazons books — discovering them as an American kid living in Canada in 1969, spending my $2 allowance (pink $2 bills!) on the books. As a new mom, I bought each Godine paperback as it came out, waiting until my daughters were old enough to have them read aloud. They’re now in their 20s, and the books continue to have pride of place on our shelf of books-never-to-be-given-away. Swallows and Amazons had a big part in shaping my desire to be self-reliant, learn to sail, and to wield semaphore flag with authority!

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