Image via Hannah Busing

Common Kitchen Table Setting Items That Used to Be Edible

Some common items we use to serve and eat our food used to also be consumed after meals

Mother is the necessity of invention and things have a tendency to evolve over time as people figure out new and better improvements. Such is the case with a couple of modern kitchen table setting items in the vast majority of homes across the globe that actually used to also be eaten once they had been used.

Dinner Plates:

Most kitchens have a variety of these vessels to serve meals. They can range from disposable paper and plastic to ornate and expensive china porcelain that are pulled out only during holidays and anniversaries.

Like many things, plates in some parts of the world used to be more rudimentary and functional. In parts of Europe, during medieval times, trenchers became popular. These were large round loaves of whole wheat bread that were allowed to age for several days before being cut into platter-sized rounds and used to scoop and serve food.

Although they were too coarse to generally be eaten by those who used them as dishes, they typically didn’t go to waste. After meals, they were given to dogs or beggars; the residual food and grease smeared on the bread adding extra nutritional value. In particular, it was a smart way to supplement the diet of dogs, who were kept as companions, guards, tools for hunting, or all three.

Trenchers gradually evolved from bread into wood and metal versions, and then into the more familiar plates we know today. What we eat our meals off now may be more sanitary and have a great deal more eye appeal than in the past, but they just don’t have that same duality.


There are few signs of someone enjoying a delicious meal than prodigious use of a napkin to wipe off the ooey, gooey deliciousness that makes its way to our fingers and faces. Today, we most frequently use paper napkins for everyday use and cloth versions for fancier occasions or when dining at nicer restaurant. They then either go straight to the trash or washing machine. However, the earliest versions were made to be edible — to dogs.

Mirroring the early use of trenchers, Spartans in ancient Greece used pieces of dough called apomagdalie as primitive napkins. With a diet that included greasy meats and oils, and without the benefit of utensils outside of knives, being able to keep fingers clean while eating came into demand. Since cloth was an absolute luxury, it couldn’t possibly be wasted on something as frivolous of wiping off food bits.

The dough was portioned into small pieces and rolled and kneaded where people were eating. Diners would then use it as a napkin, with the gluten being a perfect agent for absorbing messes. After the meal, the soiled dough was used as a convenient treat for lurking dogs, who didn’t have to be allocated more costly or essential food. This later evolved to baked bread, which served the same purpose. Over the years, napkins went through many other iterations before landing on what we use today.

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports, investing and education.

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