Why Southerners Will Always Have a Soft Spot for Cabbage Ware and Lettuce Ware

There’s no table setting quite so well suited for spring.

cabbage ware dodie thayer mario buatta estate
A collection of Dodie Thayer Lettuce Ware from Mario Buatta's Estate. Photo: Sotheby's

It's as recognizable as Spode's Christmas dishes, as beloved as Blue Willow china, and as collectible as Depression glass: cabbage and lettuce ware have graced Southern tables for decades. Heck, it's such a staple in this part of the world that we even have our own collection of cabbage-shaped ceramics at Dillards! (BUY IT: Cabbage Serving Bowl, $42; dillards.com).

But the origins of the veggie-inspired dishes reach across the pond (and much farther back in history), says Sotheby's porcelain and ceramics specialist Suzanne Harrison in a 2013 article from the Wall Street Journal: "Pottery and porcelain table wares in naturalistic forms such as fruits and vegetables were widely produced in England and Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries." It was a ceramicist decidedly closer to home, though, that sent the leafy pottery's popularity skyrocketing in the U.S. in the 1960s.

Around the same time that Lilly Pulitzer splashed juice on her frocks and was thus inspired to create her celebrated line of brightly patterned dresses, a fellow Palm Beach luminary was crafting something equally iconic.

A descendant of the people who first settled the area, artist Dodie Thayer carved out her own place in Florida folklore with her collection of handmade lettuce- and cabbage-shaped pottery. The pieces each took the self-taught artist about two weeks to create and were favorites among the affluent set, including the likes of Brooke Astor, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and even the Duchess of Windsor. While Thayer passed away in 2018 at the age of 91, you can still find her works for sale on sites like 1stdibs.com and Chairish, though they won't come cheap—A 107-piece collection of Thayer's pottery from Mario Buatta's estate sold at auction for $60,000 last year. A collaboration with Tory Burch, first launched in 2013 and featuring Thayer's classic styles in vibrant greens, petal pinks, and creamy whites, is still available at toryburch.com. Those pieces start at a comparatively more reasonable $78.

There are other places to shop the look, as well. Portuguese pottery house Bordallo Pinheiro has churned out the recognizable cabbage- and lettuce-shaped forms since 1884 and remains a popular choice. They're easy to find too, even readily available at big box shops like Bed Bath & Beyond: Score a set of four 6-inch bowls in the signature green, a set of beige dinner plates, or even a cabbage salad bowl, for the meta crowd. (BUY IT: Set of 4 Bowls, $80; Set of 4 Dinner Plates, $80; Cabbage Salad Bowl, $105; bedbathbeyond.com)

Finally, if you're someone who appreciates the thrill of the hunt, you can bet your bottom dollar that there's cabbage and lettuce ware to be found in your local antique shops, thrift stores, and estate sales. But wherever you buy it, there's no denying that the luxe, leafy china will forever be in style—an heirloom-worthy investment that will elevate your springtime table for years to come.

WATCH: Southerners Love Blue Willow China

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