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January 27, 2009

Ladies, A Plate

Growing up in the New Zealand countryside you wouldn’t think we’d socialize much, but as a child I remember going to fetes, socials and parties on a regular basis. The invitations always came along with the instructions for the ladies to bring a plate. I remember thinking this was a silly thing to ask for. I mean, wouldn’t they be better asking for food?

My mother explained to me that “ladies, a plate” was an expression and our hosts expected us to take a plate with food sitting on it, not an empty plate. She said I shouldn’t worry. There would definitely be food where we were going. That was a big relief because I like food, and unfortunately, I haven’t grown out of my liking for sweet treats!

I thought about this expression recently because there’s a new cookbook out in our local bookstores called Ladies, A Plate. It’s by Alexa Johnston and contains recipes for cakes and biscuits I remember eating in my childhood–-recipes such as Kiwi Crisps, Anzac biscuits, Afghans, Pikelets, Neenish Tarts, Butterfly Cakes, Custard Squares and Cinnamon Oysters.

Many of the recipes were developed in New Zealand and a few borrowed from Australia. In fact there’s a good-natured rivalry between the two countries when it comes to deciding which of the two countries invented some recipes.

These days baking seems to be a dying art. My mother taught my brother, sister and I how to cook and at the weekends, we’d all choose something to bake, filling the cake tins for the following week.

Do you have the expression ladies, a plate where you live? Do you have childhood memories of baking or special sweet treats? What were/are your favorites?


  1. Jennifer Colgan

    I’ve never heard the expression ‘Ladies, a plate’ before. Here we tend to say ‘pot luck’ which generally means the same thing – though it’s more to bring a meal type dish than sweets.

    I haven’t been to a pot luck in a while, but in my family [where food is quite popular!] we never go visiting without bringing something. Brownies are my signature offering – never had anyone turn ’em down yet. LOL!

  2. Sandra Cox

    Good memories, Shel.

  3. Jennifer Shirk

    My mom used to bake a wonderful Welsh cheddar cheesecake and Polish Christmas cookies with–of all things–prunes in them. But they were so good. I can’t seem to make them quite the same.

  4. Amy Ruttan

    Usually potluck in Canada. I think that it’s the same expression in the States.

    Baking is a dying art. I love to bake. I haven’t been able too since this third one made itself known, certain smells … but it doesn’t stop me from craving the baked goods.


  5. Karen Erickson

    Yes what Jennifer said – potluck is the term we use here. I remember once going to a potluck with my grandparents and great-grandma. My grandpa left the dish on top of the car that my great-grandma brought – and drove off. Was my great-grandma mad when we go to the place! Oh well, there was still plenty of food…lol.

  6. Shelley Munro

    Hmm, it must be a Downunder expression. I’m sure they use it in Australia as well.

    Jennifer – prunes sound like an interesting addition.

    Amy – we used to do a lot of baking when we were kids. We’d all choose a recipe from my mother’s book and make it. Most of the baking tasted pretty good. Butter is so expensive over here now that it’s cheaper to buy ready made goods, although I don’t like all the artificial stuff they put in them to make them last longer. There’s nothing as tasty as home-made stuff.

    Karen – I can picture the scene quite clearly. It would be easy to do, too, especially if you were in a hurry.

  7. Rhonda Barnes

    I’ve never heard this expression before but I think I’ll have to check out the cookbook!

    Rhonda :grin:

  8. Shelley Munro

    Rhonda – it’s a really good recipe book and well worth purchasing, although I’m not sure if it’s available outside of NZ/Aust.

  9. Kat

    I’ve never heard the expression, either, here in Sydney. We do say “bring a plate”, though, which is close.

    I went to a friend’s BBQ last weekend and brought home the yummiest Anzac biscuits!

  10. Jenyfer Matthews

    Most of the baking I remember as a child occurred around Christmas. My favorite cookies are called spritz – basically a butter cookie – made with a cookie gun. My own cookie gun (inherited from my grandmother) is back in our storage closet in the US so I can’t make them myself. Imagine how pleased I was that my mother made them when I was visiting this Christmas :)

  11. Shelley Munro

    Is a cookie gun a bit like a piping bag that you’d use for decorative icing?

    I like butter cookies and the way they melt in your mouth. Very yummy.