Monday, September 14, 2015

Gilded Age Dinner Etiquette "Extras"

Fruit-knives are required, and ice-spoons, orange spoons, and other unique conceits in silver utensils may be provided with the dessert, if one happens to own them...

Miscellaneous Points of the Gilded Age Dinner

Extra knives and forks are brought in with any course that requires them. The preliminary lay-out is usually meant to provide all that the scheme of the dinner will call for; but one must have a goodly supply of silver and cutlery to avoid altogether the necessity for having some of it washed and returned to the table during the progress of the dinner. It is very desirable to be amply equipped, as it facilitates the prompt and orderly serving of the courses.

Fruit-knives are required, and ice-spoons, orange spoons, and other unique conceits in silver utensils may be provided with the dessert, if one happens to own them; otherwise, plain forks and spoons do duty as required. The fork bears the chief burden of responsibility, being used for everything solid or semi-solid, leaving the spoon to the limited realm of soft custards and fruits that are so juicy as to elude the tines of the fork.

The knife is held in hand as little as possible, being used only when cutting is actually necessary, the fork easily separating most vegetables, etc. In the fish course, however, the knife is used to assist in removing the troublesome small bones.

In holding the knife the fingers should not touch the blade, except that the forefinger rests upon the upper edge not far below the shank when the cutting requires some firmness of pressure. The dinner knife should be sharp enough to perform its office without too much muscular effort, or the possible accident of a duck's wing flying unexpectedly " from cover" under the ill-directed stress of a despairing carver's hand. I have seen the component parts of a fricasseed chicken leave the table, not untouched— oh! no; every one had been sawing at it for a half an hour—but uneaten it certainly was, for obvious reasons. The cutlery was pretty, but practically unequal to even spring chicken.                               
The fork bears the chief burden of responsibility, being used for everything solid or semi-solid, leaving the spoon to the limited realm of soft custards and fruits that are so juicy as to elude the tines of the fork.
The fork is held with the tines curving downward, that position giving greater security to the morsel, and is raised laterally, the points being turned, as it reaches the mouth, just enough to deposit the morsel between the slightly-parted lips. During this easy movement the elbow scarcely moves from its position at the side, a fact gratefully appreciated by one's next neighbor. What is more awkward than the arm projected, holding the fork pointing backward at a right angle to the lips, the mouth opening wide like an automatic railway gate to an approaching locomotive—the labored and ostentatious way in which food is sometimes transported to its destination? Nor, once in the mouth, is it lost to sight forever. Other people, seated opposite, are compelled to witness it in successive stages of the grinding process, as exhibited by the constant opening and shutting of the mouth during mastication, or laughing and talking with the mouth full—faults of heedless people of energetic but not refined manners.

Liquids are sipped from the side of the spoon, without noise or suction. In serving vegetables the tablespoon is inserted laterally, not " point first."

Celery is held in the fingers, asparagus also, unless the stalks are too tender. Green corn may be eaten from the cob, a good set of natural teeth being the prime requisite. It may be a perfectly graceful performance if daintily managed.

The management of fruits in the dessert is another test of dainty skill. Oranges may be eaten in different ways; they may be cut in half across the sections, and the cells scooped out with a spoon; or they may be peeled and separated. The pegs of a large Florida orange can be skinned with the point of a sharp fruit-knife, and the seeds removed, leaving only the juicy pulp to be conveyed to the mouth. Practice enables one easily to "make way with" an orange. Bananas are peeled and held in the fingers, or, if very mealy, they may be cut into "bites" and eaten with a fork. Juicy pears and peaches may be managed in the same way, at discretion, the rule being that the fingers should touch as little as possible fruits that are decidedly mushy.

The finger-bowl stands ready to repair all damages of the nature suggested. The fingers are dipped in the water and gently rinsed, and then passed lightly over the lips, and both mouth and fingers are wiped upon the napkin.

At a signal from the hostess, the ladies rise and return to the drawing-room. The gentlemen follow immediately, or remain a short time for another glass of wine, when such is the provision of the host.
 – From "Etiquette: An Answer to the Riddle When? Where? How??" By Agnes H. Morton



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