Thursday, November 27, 2014

Changes in Victorian Era Dining Etiquette

Victorian Era Dining and 3 Forks on the Left 

The change over (from Service à la Française) to Service à la Russe caused the established ways of serving and eating meals to undergo a major modification. 
In the colonial period the only silver on the table was a knife, a fork, and perhaps a spoon. Part of the reason for this was that the tablecloth was removed after every course. To have a lot of silver and many glasses on the table would have made the removal of the tablecloth too hard. 
When the change to service a la Russe took place in the 1860s and 1870s, the tablecloth stayed in place throughout the entire meal. In addition, the servants were busy carving and serving food. It now made sense to put out all the silver the diner would need and leave it there throughout the entire meal. The footman had other things to do and less time to hand out silverware. In addition, the mechanization in the production of silverware, together with a drop in the price of silver, meant that the host now acquired more silverware. 
There were some practical limits. Clearly if the hostess put out the 8 or 10 forks one would use at a formal meal, the diners would be too spread out to comfortably talk to each other. Convention quickly settled on 3 or 4 forks as the maximum number the hostess could put out so guests could still talk easily to their neighbors. 
A rare Chantilly pattern "bird" or "game" knife and fork set. These were also sometimes known as "duck knives and forks" and were the predecessors to the steak knives of today.
For some twenty years after the Civil War there was disagreement about whether 3 or 4 forks were proper. In the end 3 forks won out-- perhaps because the game course became less common. But, because this was a change and an arbitrary number, it was necessary to keep reminding people that they should never put out more than 3 forks at a table setting. We personally like the look of 4 forks and knives it creates an exotic and opulent look, and visually sends the cue that this meal will be something a little different.


From Forgotton Elegance



Etiquette and Turkey for a 17th Century Princely House

The first known turkey depicted in Marx Rumpolt’s, 1604 "Ein New Kochbuch" cookbook. The cookbook had about 20 recipes for the "Indianishen henn" 

Turkeys, native to the Americas, most likely arrived in Germany by 1530 and quickly became an important food. Marx Rumpolt’s Ein New Kochbuch includes about twenty recipes for Indianishen henn in the section on birds, which includes recipes for eagle, ostrich, peacock, ducks, geese, starlings, swallows, and other sorts of small birds.

What is notable here is the woodcut illustration of the bird itself, attributed to Virgil Solis, believed to be the first known image of a turkey in any cookbook. It is interesting that in this, and many other early cookbooks, the illustrations are of the actual, “raw” ingredient, and not of the finished dish, as they appear in most modern cookbooks.

The recipes using turkey are relatively simple, such as turkey dumplings (basically meat-balls), turkey meat in pastry, and turkey broth. Rumpolt advises a cook to use all parts of the bird, including the gizzard, liver, intestines, and blood.
       
Johann Adam von Bicken was the Prince Elector of Mainz from 1601 to 1604. In the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the Archbishop-Elector of Mainz was the Primate of Germany (primas Germaniae), a purely honorary dignity that was unsuccessfully claimed from time to time by other Archbishops. There were only two other ecclesiastical Prince-electors in the Empire: the Electorate of Cologne and the Electorate of Trier."Kurfürstentum Mainz," (also known by its French name, Mayence), was the most prestigious of the most influential states of the Holy Roman Empire from the time of its creation to the dissolution of the HRE in the early years of the 19th century.
Little is known about the book’s author,other than what he wrote about himself in the cookbook. Rumpolt claimed to be Hungarian by birth and to have worked as a chef in many countries; on the title page, he is identified as a private cook to the Prince Elect of Mainz.

The volume begins with a description of the different tasks for servants, including the cook, in a princely house, followed by a section of banquet menus for royalty, different levels of nobility, the bourgeois, and farmers. The recipe section contains about 2000 recipes arranged into chapters for meat from domestic and wild animals, poultry, fish, side dishes, pastry, soups, and conserves.


Source ~ Cabinet of Culinary Curiosities:  Books & 
Manuscripts from the Mortimer Rare Book Room

Saturday, November 22, 2014

More Victorian Era Dining Etiquette

"Modern cookery is of such a high degree of excellence, modern table-implements so luxurious and varied, that elegant enjoyment and graceful ease may reasonably 'be expected of those who gather round a well-appointed table.'"
One of the fundamental rules for graceful carriage is, keep your elbows at your sides, and this rule should dominate the movement of the arms while at table. Its workings are felt rather than seen, but they are nevertheless evident in the graceful methods of those who understand the difference between dining elegantly and merely consuming food.

Modern cookery is of such a high degree of excellence, modern table-implements so luxurious and varied, that elegant enjoyment and graceful ease may reasonably "be expected of those who gather round a well-appointed table." Even if the general verdict falls a little short of this, the standard is sure to grow toward it. It cannot be otherwise where the desire for improvement exists, and it would be false to assume that there are not many who feel the need and seek the means of improvement. Progress is more quickly noticeable in city than in country life for many reasons, first among them being the necessity for quick and ready adaptation to rapidly moving events.
   
"One can easily draw a mental picture in which the dogmatists of etiquette a half century ago are seated about a tempting board, all eating with their knives, but using them daintily ; and the retrospect need not go back of the times of those whose manners at table, as well as elsewhere, are defined as models of elegance." 
Although the four-pronged silver fork was in use upon the continent of Europe in the first decade of the present century, it is noticeable that the use of the knife in carrying food to the mouth is by no means obsolete among some of the most advanced of the European nations. One can easily draw a mental picture in which the dogmatists of etiquette a half century ago are seated about a tempting board, all eating with their knives, but using them daintily ; and the retrospect need not go back of the times of those whose manners at table, as well as elsewhere, are defined as models of elegance. Since then the steel fork has been banished, the knife subjugated and the spoon subdued. The reason for all this is commonly supposed to be the danger of cutting the lips with the knife, but such danger is very slight, unless one be persistently stupid in handling it. It is much more sensible to assume that mankind was not slow to perceive the more agreeable sensation of putting to the lips the delicate tines of a fork, which were close enough to convey all except liquid edibles with comfort and convenience.
   
Then, too, there are many varieties of food which deteriorate from even the slightest contact with steel, a metal still much in use for knives. There is, however, an inclination to force the use of the fork to the point of affectation, and excess in this direction is quite as deplorable as the indiscriminate use of the knife. The proper use of any table implement at a table where one is a guest is no different from what it would be at the most informal meal, except as it may be influenced by the special preparation of an edible.

In seating one's self at table a comfortable posture is not incompatible with a dignified attitude. The shoulders should not be thrown back too far, nor should they drop forward. It is the latter pose which produces the inclination of the arms suggestive of the " all elbows" idea which some people give of themselves.
     
"Of course, the right hand is most frequently used, because it is the best trained for such service; but those who believe it to be an oversight not to train both hands to do our bidding with equal skill are not slaves to the dictum of never raising the fork with the left hand, nor is it supposable that in such a minor matter personal opinion should cause one to relinquish a carefully considered habit or adopt a new one. Etiquette only advises that, if the fork is used in the left hand, it be carried to the mouth with the tines pointing downward." ~Beautifully stylized oyster forks with one lobster claw fork from a silver catalog

When oysters on the shell are served, at the beginning of a dinner, oyster forks are provided, and in eating such shell-fish the right or left hand may be employed to carry them to the mouth. Of course, the right hand is most frequently used, because it is the best trained for such service; but those who believe it to be an oversight not to train both hands to do our bidding with equal skill are not slaves to the dictum of never raising the fork with the left hand, nor is it supposable that in such a minor matter personal opinion should cause one to relinquish a carefully considered habit or adopt a new one. Etiquette only advises that, if the fork is used in the left hand, it be carried to the mouth with the tines pointing downward. This applies to its use with all kinds of food and to all varieties of forks, but is emphasized here in its application to the oyster fork, because there are many people for whom the smallest blue-points lose their relish if the eyes are forced to rest upon them as they approach the mouth.
Rolls used to be placed in one's napkin, prior to seating the guests, on each guest's plate.
The bread or dinner roll is removed from the napkin on which it is found and placed at the left side, but aside from doing this and placing the napkin the diner does not interfere with the arrangement of the cover until the servant removes the plate. Fingering the glasses, etc., is evidence of a vacuous state of mind.

The servant, if well trained, omits no one in passing such condiments as the various dishes call for, or in replenishing anything of which a first supply may not suffice; consequently, a gentleman's duties in this respect are light, but, trivial as they may be, he should not neglect them.

Even though decanted wines be placed upon the table and the attendant be only a maid, do not offer any kind to a lady until she has finished her soup and do not undertake to assume the duties of the butler, if there be one, in this respect. It is one thing to see that a lady is provided for, and quite another to perform the service in such a way that it interferes with pre-arranged plans.

Soup should be lifted with an outward motion of the spoon and taken from the side of the spoon when possible, and the impossible instances are very rare. A man with a heavy moustache may be excused if he deviates somewhat from this rule, but not until after he has acquired the dexterity necessary to raise his spoon with the end toward him without thrusting his elbow out or making the movement of his arm conspicuous. Such skill can be cultivated, but not so easily as the movement of lifting the spoon sidewise to the mouth. It ought to be unnecessary to add that soup should be taken noiselessly. If the variety served is not agreeable to the palate, let it remain until the servant is ready to remove it.    
An elegant presentation for soup.

It is not good form to refuse soup, even if you do not care for it, it being an easy matter to take up the time of this course with conversation. Indeed, when dinner is served a la Russe, that is, each course placed separately before the diners, it is not judicious to refuse any course unless the list is very long and a menu from which to select is provided. Superabundance in this direction, and the use of the cards as well, are, however, neither fashionable nor refined. No one is obliged to partake of a dish placed before him, and ladies especially are excusable from partaking of richly made dishes and highly seasoned compounds. They may sip their wine and partake of the bread or dinner roll, and if they desire more of this satisfying and healthful food they are entitled to express their desire at the most formal dinner. Their escorts should see that they are provided, and this can best be done by attracting the attention of the waiter in an unostentatious manner. A New Yorker, whose appearance at any dinner, private or public, gives it the cachet of success, and whose delightfully entertaining qualities are recognized both here and abroad, when asked how he preserved his digestion and kept his head clear under pressure of attendance at so many social dinners and formal banquets, replied, "By avoiding made dishes and eating bread while others are partaking of them, and by taking only one variety of wine."

As each course is ended, readiness to have your plate removed may be expressed by placing the knife and fork across it, with the handles to the right, and when the next plate is placed before you, if the knife and fork to be used for the succeeding course be upon it, remove them deftly to the table, placing them at the right side without touching the plate, even though it be the one from which you are to eat.
"Etiquette only advises that, if the fork is used in the left hand, it be carried to the mouth with the tines pointing downward."

In the use of the knife and fork, daintiness should be cultivated without impairing or interfering with the proper function of either implement. Some varieties of fish do not require the use of the knife, the fork and a piece of bread being sufficient. Others, notably those having many small bones, cannot be properly managed without one, and a small silver knife accompanies their service. Both knife and fork should be held with the handles resting in the palms of the hands when cutting or separating food, but in carrying food to the mouth the handle of the fork should not be kept against the palm, as conveying it in that position gives the effect commonly expressed as "shovelling " the food into the mouth. A firm hold upon both knife and fork does not necessitate gripping them as if they were endowed with the ability to fly. It is inelegant to appear busy with both knife and fork all the time. Such foods as require special preparation upon the plate may be prepared neatly and quickly before beginning to eat them, and while it is not desirable to cut one's portion of roast in small bits, as for a child, it may be divided into morsels as wanted without appearing to be incessantly sawing upon it. Whoever is given to "loading up'' a fork or holding upon it a quantity of food pending its deposit in the mouth, had best dine by himself until such gaucheries are overcome.



Eating and drinking at the same time are reprehensible for more than one good reason; but the fact that the practice is contrary to good manners condemns it sufficiently in the minds of the well-bred. Hurry, the bane of our epoch and the foe of self-possession, has implanted the tendency to do everything in the shortest possible time, and the habit of hurrying clings after the necessity has sped. There should be no evidence of haste at a dinner-party, and even the suggestion of it should be guarded against. The napkin should be touched to the lips in the interval between partaking of greasy food and drinking; otherwise the rim of the glass will not be inviting to look upon. In eating or drinking, the fork, spoon, glass, or cup is carried to the mouth, but not beyond the lips. Throwing the head far back, thrusting the spoon or fork far into the mouth, turning the bowl of the spoon over in the mouth, draining the glass, emptying it at a single draught, or reversing it so that the stem is inverted, are not merely sins against the social gods—they are coarse and repulsive habits, which should be cured as speedily as possible.
Crumbing the table before dessert
It was a pleasing and proper acknowledgment when an invitation to one's table signified the most sacred form of social hospitality, but though an invitation to dine still suggests a desire for some degree of social intimacy, the giving of dinners has grown to be more of a formality since that time.

No more nonsensical statement could be made than that everything eatable should be carried to the lips with a fork. The spoon is the proper medium for conveying many varieties of semi-liquid foods; but methods of preparing certain foods differ according to locality, and to this difference is attributable much of the misunderstanding existing between the use of the fork and spoon. Tomatoes cooked without anything to absorb their liquid contain but little pulp which can be eaten with a spoon, but the delicious manner of thus preparing them, which prevails throughout New England, more than counterbalances the satisfaction that the remnant of solid matter conveyed to the mouth upon a fork would bestow; and those to whom the preparation is agreeable would merely proclaim themselves ridiculously automatic in their ideas by attempting to eat them without the aid of a spoon. On the other hand the same vegetable, prepared so that but little moisture remains, is as easily lifted upon the fork as mashed potato. We have made an every-day selection to illustrate this point, but the rule applies as practically to the daintiest viand that rejoices in a French name, and should be as faithfully adhered to at the table of a king as at the humblest board.

Many people, believing it bad manners to ask for anything not provided by their hosts, inconvenience themselves by refraining from asking for anything which the table equipment does not include. There is, however, no reason why a spoon or any similar implement should not be asked for, if needed; but never on any account should a person signal conspicuously to the waiter nor address him as " waiter." In a restaurant you may ask the usher to send a waiter to you if the service is slow or the attendant negligent, but not even in this public place does a well-bred man call out "waiter," and he who commits such a blunder beneath a private roof might as well hope for future canonization as for present social success.

Primus, a dinner party pre-supposes enjoyment of the viands; secundus, it does not require that a guest shall express his pleasure by waving his napkin, gesticulating with his knife, fork, or spoon, or talking while his mouth is full of food. Fleeting as is time, there is enough of it for all things, and when conversation is in order, let eating be suspended. Exciting topics may be banished without excluding those which have an exhilarating interest.   



Contributed by sisters Toni and June of Etiquette Facts, by Anonymous

Friday, November 21, 2014

Flirting, Etiquette and the Anti-Flirt Club

Depiction of a Victorian Era,"lounge lizard" or "slick, dandified cake eater" flirting with two young women.

"Why do we flirt? Flirting is much more than just a bit of fun: it is a universal and essential aspect of human interaction around the world. Flirting is a basic instinct, part of human nature. This is not surprising: if we did not initiate contact and express interest in members of the opposite sex, we would not progress to reproduction, and the human species would become extinct. According to some evolutionary psychologists, flirting may even be the foundation of civilisation as we know it. They argue that the large human brain – our superior intelligence, complex language, everything that distinguishes us from animals – is the equivalent of the peacock’s tail: a courtship device evolved to attract and retain sexual partners. Our achievements in everything from art to rocket science may be merely a side-effect of the essential ability to charm." from Kate Fox for Social Issues Research Centre


The Anti-Flirt Club of Washington D.C.     

Charter members of the Washington D.C. "Anti-Flirt Club"
The Anti-Flirting Club began in the early '20s in Washington D.C, as a reaction against young women recieving unwanted attention from men, usually in "automobiles or in street corners." Apparently, just like today, flirting and harassment were pretty interchangeable in the 1920s.
Miss Alice Heighly was the Anti-Flirt Club President
Apart from establishing 'Anti-Flirt Week', the club also created a set of rules, or etiquette, to help young ladies avoid the "slick, dandified cake eaters" they might come across. The rules are as follows:

  • Don't flirt: those who flirt in haste oft repent in leisure.
  • Don't accept rides from flirting motorists—they don't invite you in to save you a walk.
  • Don't use your eyes for ogling—they were made for worthier purposes.
  • Don't go out with men you don't know—they may be married, and you may be in for a hair-pulling match.
  • Don't wink—a flutter of one eye may cause a tear in the other.
  • Don't smile at flirtatious strangers—save them for people you know.
  • Don't annex all the men you can get—by flirting with many, you may lose out on the one.
  • Don't fall for the slick, dandified cake eater—the unpolished gold of a real man is worth more than the gloss of a lounge lizard.
  • Don't let elderly men with an eye to a flirtation pat you on the shoulder and take a fatherly interest in you. Those are usually the kind who want to forget they are fathers.
  • Don't ignore the man you are sure of while you flirt with another. When you return to the first one you may find him gone.
"Flirting, and a too obtrusive manifestation of preference are not agreeable to men of sense." Marilyn Monroe gets flirtatious with Cary Grant, in "Monkey Business"

"Women reach maturity earlier than men, and may marry earlier—say (as an average age), at twenty. The injunction, "Know thyself," applies with as much emphasis to a woman as to a man. Her perceptions are keener than ours, and her sensibilities finer, and she may trust more to instinct, but she should add to these natural qualifications a thorough knowledge of her own physical and mental constitution, and of whatever relates to the requirements of her destiny as wife and mother. The importance of sound health and a perfect development, can not be overrated. Without these you are NEVER fit to marry.

Having satisfied yourself that you really love a woman—be careful, as you value your future happiness and hers, not to make a mistake in this matter—you will find occasion to manifest, in a thousand ways, your preference, by means of those tender but delicate and deferential attentions which love always prompts. "Let the heart speak." The heart you address will understand its language. Be earnest, sincere, self-loyal, and manly in this matter above all others. Let there be no nauseous flattery and no sickly sentimentality Leave the former to fops and the latter to beardless school-boys. Though women do not "propose"—that is, as a general rule—they "make love" to the men none the less; and it is right. The divine attraction is mutual, and should have its proper expression on both sides. If you are attracted toward a man who seems to you an embodiment of all that is noble and manly, you do injustice both to him and yourself if you do not, in some way entirely consistent with maiden modesty, allow him to see and feel that he pleases you. But you do not need our instructions, and we will only hint, in conclusion, that forwardness, flirting, and a too obtrusive manifestation of preference are not agreeable to men of sense. As a man should be manly, so should a woman be womanly in her love." From "How to Behave"by Samuel R. Wells, 1887


Japan's Etiquette and Customs— A Victorian View

A wealthy Japanese man and his servant.

The following describes the contents of a letter from 1859 in New York, detailing to someone, the "peculiar" etiquette and customs of the Japanese people.

"In some respects they appear to be more virtuous than people boasting of a higher civilization. Malversation by a functionary, embezzlement of public funds, extortion, bribery of officials, coining of false money, murder, and robbery, are punished with death, and not only of the guilty person, but of his father, children, and even all of his male relatives, who are executed at the same moment, however distant they may be from one another. This system, which is repugnant to European notions, and to sound principles of justice, appears to be adopted by the Japanese from the belief that crime is owing to bad education.

The modes of punishment adopted in Japan are of different sorts, but all are horrible. The principle is crucifixion, and is reserved for traitors, murderers and incendiaries. The culprit is fastened on the cross head downwards, and is left to die, unless he obtains the favor of being dispatched by stabs from a poignard. For parricide and adultery, culprits are plunged into boiling oil. Petty robberies, insults, calumny, fraud, even at play, and false testimony before magistrates, are punished by hanging or beheading. If the offenders be a gentleman or soldiers, their bowels are opened -- they have even the privilege of performing the operation on themselves. Pecuniary fines are almost unknown. The corporal punishment of the whip and the bastinado are reserved for slaves and servants, and are inflicted by their masters, not by public executioners. The Japanese consider corporal punishment so degrading that mothers never strike their offspring.

Depiction of a young Japanese woman, being dressed by her servants.
The climate is enervating, yet children are brought up hardily. They are made to bear hunger, thirst, cold, pain, excess of labor, and the rigor of the seasons. Horror of falsehood and fraud, and love of modesty, justice, and virtue are diligently inculcated. One of the results of the system of education is to inspire the Japanese with a passion for books which causes surprise in European visitors.

The bookselling trade in Japan is subjected to no restriction, and they're everywhere, even in towns of small population, numerous bookshops. Great parts of literature of the Japanese is Chinese; and their knowledge of arts and agriculture is derived from the same people. The language commonly employed is every year becoming more Chinese in character. And yet the Japanese despise the Chinese; they do so because from their early age they have been taught that the Chinese are not soldiers; that in ancient times a Japanese army defeated an immense Chinese army in the Corea; and that Coxinga himself, who is the scourge of the sea and the terror of the Chinese Empire, it was a Japanese -- as were also the greater part of his companions."


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

Monday, November 10, 2014

Etiquette and European Dining History

At the head table, the most important people sat in the middle, at center stage as it were, and the lesser people toward either end.

In Western Europe in the late Middle Ages, at great formal banquets, both the diners and the dinner were the show. The host and his special guests would sit along one side of the table set at the head of the great hall of the castle. This allowed the other diners to view the actions of the great and powerful. At the head table, the most important people sat in the middle, at center stage as it were, and the lesser people toward either end. At some point down the table were placed great salt holders, or salt cellars. This evolved into a natural delineation of status among the diners at the head table. One was either above the salt, that is, close to the important people, or below the salt, with the "hoi polloi."
The French made Burghley Nef salt cellar, circa 1527-1528. It is nautilus shell with parcel-gilt silver mounts, raised, chased, engraved and cast, and pearls, and is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The proximity to which the nef as a salt cellar was placed next to a guest was indicative of their status. Some nefs held not only salt, but expensive spices and even napkins. Nefs were a tour de force for silversmiths and consequently, highly desirable objects for royal and noble households.
In accounts of medieval dinners a great deal of attention is paid to who sat where. The host sat in the middle of the "high table," so called because it was often placed on a platform. The table was set up on the stage so that the others could watch what their "betters" were doing and how they behaved. This custom is still followed today in some of the old college dining rooms at Cambridge University, England, and at public banquets.
During the Middle Ages, the set-up of the tables, and table manners themselves, were very important. Diners were seated according to their social class at tables of varying heights. Reserved for members of the clergy or, if no clergy were in attendance, the highest in the social class such as the king and queen, were the highest tables. Steel knives, silver spoons, dishes for salt, silver cups, and "mazers." Mazers were shallow, oftentimes silver-rimmed, wooden bowls that soups were drunk from.            
The tables for the other diners were often placed at right angles to the main table. These diners were so far off the social scale, they did not merit being ranked as above or below the salt. Women were even further off the social scale. At first, the wives of the nobles when not even allowed at great banquets and were relegated to a spectators' gallery. Later, they were allowed to sit at the table in a group well below the salt. 

Entertainments were given between the "mets," a medieval term for main course of the dinner. The entertainment might be short plays, songs by troubadours, animal acts, dancing, jesters, or juggling. Many dinners were for political show, and on really special occasions, pageants were performed.  Several of these were so noteworthy that they are mentioned in some history books. One such dinner was the Banquet of the Vow of the Pheasant, given by the Duke of Burgundy in 1453. 

Footman brought out a pheasant for each knight in attendance and placed before him. Each knight vowed by the pheasant and before God to abstain from whatever action his imagination conjured up-- to sleep in a bed, to change his clothes, and so on-- until Constantinople had been reconquered from the Ottoman Turks, who had captured it that year.
An anonymous painting of the Banquet du Voeu du Faisan, (aka "Banquet of the Oath of the Pheasant) was a banquet given by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy on February 17, 1454 in Lille, now in France. Its purpose was to promote a crusade against the Turks, who had taken Constantinople the year before, though the crusade never took place. The knights had come to their senses in the days following the meal and did not try to take back Constantinople.
The vow created a sensation as Constantinople had been thought to be impregnable, and all Christians were humiliated and terrified of the idea of the city in Muslim hands.

Unfortunately for Christendom, the knights came to their senses in the days following the meal and did not try to take back Constantinople.

Guests were given light tidbits to eat while watching the shows. In time, such dishes came to be called "entremets," literally meaning "between the Mets." The dinner itself was full of pageantry to entertain and impress those in attendance. The food was brought in in a procession, often with flute players leading the way. The less important foods, called "entrees" came in and were laid out first, building up to the presentation of the piece de resistance, which might be a full roasted ox or a roasted pheasant with its skin and feathers still attached.
A pheasant in flight, as opposed to on one's table.
In time, kings and other nobility found it rather wearisome to be on display. They just wanted to eat with other important people, their friends and allies, in privacy. These intimate meals moved from the great hall to the lord's private living areas. The table changed from a long, relatively narrow strip of wood with seating on only one side, to a square or oblong table where people could sit on all sides. Status was still gained, however, by sitting close to the lord or other notables, and the women were grouped either at another table or the end of the table away from the host.

The wider tables allowed more food to be put on the table itself. This in turn permitted far greater displays of food. The table would almost crack under the weight of joints of meat, fish, fouls, and side dishes. With diners on all sides of the table, however, it was not possible to bring each dish in after people sat down. The table had to be largely set before the diners arrived, which meant that the food would get cold while the diners filed in to take their places. Essentially, the nobles gained the ability to talk and dine intimately with their companions at the expense of hot meals. This was not as great a loss as it might appear to us today.
17th century Dutch, steel-bladed knife and steel-tined fork, with carved ivory handles.
Up until the 19th century, the cooking area was always set well away from the main part of the house lest a cooking fire get out of control and burn everything down. Thus the food lost a good bit of heat while being carried to the dining room.

Over time, what it started out a small private meals grew into pageants in their own right. This came about in the 17th century, when absolute monarchs ruled most of Europe.
           
In keeping with the ethos of the era, every aspect of the king's life was made a display. Vast an elaborate meals were one way to assert power, wealth, and status, and they once again moved back into public view. But, this time, women fully participated as the bold innovation of alternating men and women at the dinner table took hold. This practice arrived in England from Holland in the 1600s and was known as the Dutch style of seating. The practice of alternating men and women at the dinner table, arrived in England from Holland in the 1600s and was known as the "Dutch" style of seating.

The last ingredient in the evolution of formal Victorian dining came about the early 1800's, as the combined weight of England and Russia was defeating the military genius of Napoleon. Ironically, even as the French were losing on the battlefield, they were about to emerge victorious on the culinary front. They developed a highly sophisticated culinary style, drawing in large part upon what they learned from the Italians.
Catherine de Medici of Florence, the great granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent, married the future King of France, Henry II in 1533.
Italian cooks and courtiers came to France in 1533 when fourteen year old Catherine de Medici of Florence, great granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent, married the future King of France, Henry II. Their arrival helped transform French cooking and manners. New tastes and flavors were introduced, along with new dishes, such as sweetbreads, truffles, and artichoke hearts. Prior to this, the Italians had looked down on the French. It has been said that before Catherine's arrival, "all the French had was raw military power. Afterward, they were on their way to haute cuisine."

Some of this text and information comes from the book "Forgotten Elegance: The Art, Artifacts, and Peculiar History of Victorian and Edwardian Entertaining in America" 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Etiquette for a Variety of Foods

Corn on the Cob
An 1833 patent design for a corn scraper, or corn stripper, for corn on the cob
This is only for informal eating and, unless one's teeth will not permit, is best eaten on the cob, with the fingers of each hand firmly in control on each end. A long ear may be broken in half, but only a row or so at a time is buttered and seasoned, never the whole ear at once. Salt already mixed with butter, pepper, and perhaps paprika and shaped in little pats or balls may be provided by the considerate hostess, but a mixture of salt, butter, and pepper may be made, unnoticeably, on the side of one's plate, then smeared a little at a time on the corn as you are eating it. If the corn is to be cut off the cob, the cob is held on one end with the left hand and the kernels cut off a few rows at a time with the dinner knife (which had better be sharp for the purpose). The kernels are then seasoned and eaten a forkful at a time, as one eats peas. There are small silver spears for holding corn, but if they are provided you are quite free to ignore them for the more trustworthy fingers-directly-on-corn technique.
Fish
    
Small sardines were popular as tinned items in the Victorian Era. Many silver items were made for serving them.
Small fish, fried, are usually served whole (though cleaned) with head and tail (smelt, sunfish, butterfish, etc.). The head is cut off first, then the fish is held in place with the fork and slit with the tip of the knife from head to tail and laid flat. The tip of the knife is then inserted under an end of the backbone, which with the help of the fork in a serving motion is gently lifted out, bringing with it many of the tiny bones in the fish. This skeletal material is laid on the side of the plate or possibly on the butter plate. The balance of the fish is then cut with the fork, or with the knife, if need be, for manageable portions. Any tiny bones still in the fish when it gets into the mouth, after being thoroughly cleaned in the mouth, are taken in thumb and forefinger, and are laid on the edge of the plate or on the butter plate if there is one. There is no objection to anyone hardy enough eating the head, and very tiny fish, such as whitebait (too small to clean), are eaten head and all in one bite. Never one for enjoying the sight of a fish-eye on my plate or in my chowder, I prefer to have even boiled fish (cod, haddock, salmon) come to the table with the head removed, but it is quite proper to serve it whole, with a lemon filling the gaping maw.
Pickles and Radishes
 

An antique relish fork makes a perfect server for pickled cucumber slices.
Whole pickles are taken with the fingers, as are radishes. These are never conveyed from the serving plate directly to the mouth (nor is anything else where a serving plate is provided) but are laid on the side of the dinner or lunch plate or butter plate. (And see "Salt.")
 
Potatoes
Potato Serving Forks
Baked-

These should be rubbed with fat before baking and be presented immediately on coming from the oven, a cross having been cut neatly on the top to allow the escape of steam and to permit the pre-service insertion of a lump of butter, plus a sprinkling of salt and paprika. Then it is simple to hold the potato with the left hand while one explores its innards with the fork. But if a baked potato is presented whole it is taken from the dish with serving fork and spoon, then broken apart with the fingers for buttering and seasoning. It is then eaten with a fork, and if one wishes the skin may be cut up with a knife and eaten (never cutting it up in pieces all at once, any more than one would meat). If the skin is unwanted, the mealy part of the potato is eaten right from the skin with each portion seasoned just before entering the mouth. Except for a child, do not scoop out all the potato, set the skin aside and mash the contents all at once with butter and seasoning.
 
Chips- 
Originally called "Saratoga Chips," potato chips had a special scoop or server, designed especially to serve them.
Are eaten with the fingers.
French Fried-
  
British fish and chip shoppe wooden "chip forks" for fries, with one done in silver.
Eaten with the fork after being halved with the fork, if necessary. It's poor manners to hold a piece of food with the fork and nibble off a manageable mouthful.
Shoe String- 
If really dry and impossible to eat with fork, may be eaten with the fingers.
Salad    
Victorian lettuce serving forks
A quarter of iceberg lettuce may be eaten with knife and fork, though gourmets and nutritionists both frown on the cutting of lettuce in salad preparation. Lettuce for mixed salad should be broken in bits and mixed at the last minute to preserve the vitamin content.
 
Salt- 
Early Victorian salt cellar, long salt spoon and pepper shaker
If there is only one saltcellar on the table (as there is when a condiment set is used or when there is a master salt), the salt is always sent down the table to the honored guest, if there is one, or to the hostess before making the rounds of the family. If salt is needed for dipping radishes or celery or for corn on the cob it is placed on the edge of the plate, never on the table cloth. If open salts are used and no salt spoon provided, use a clean knife to take salt from a common container. If individual open salts are at each place, salt may be taken between thumb and forefinger.

All photos courtesy of Maura Graber of the RSVP Institute of Etiquette and Much of text from Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette