Anglomania in Eating
Some Plain Talk About the Finicky Ways of “Overly Dainty” People
The Anglo-Saxons are afraid to use their fingers to eat with, especially the English. Thanks to this hesitation, I have seen in the course of my travels in the Old World, many distressing sights. I have seen a lady attempt to eat crawfish (écrevisse) with a knife and fork, and abandon the attempt in despair. I have also seen men in the same fix. I have seen—oh, barbarous and cruel spectacle!—Anglo-Saxons, otherwise apparently civilized, cut off the points of asparagus, and eat these points only with a fork, thus leaving the best part of the vegetable on their plates. As for artichokes, they generally utterly defeat the attacks of those who trust only to the knife and fork.
Fingers must be used for eating certain things, notably asparagus, artichokes, fruit, olives, radishes, pastry, and even small fried fish; In short, everything which will not dirty or grease the fingers may be eaten with the fingers. For my own part, I prefer to eat lettuce salad with my fingers rather than with a fork, and Queen Marie Antoinette and other ladies of the Eighteenth century were of my way of thinking. If the ladies could only see how pretty is their gesture when their diaphanous forefinger and thumb grasps a leaf of delicate green lettuce, and raises that leaf from the porcelain plate to their rosy lips, they would all immediately take to eating salad à la Marie Antoinette. Only bear in mind, good ladies, that if you do wish to eat lettuce salad with your fingers, you must mix your salad with oil and vinegar, and not with that abominable ready-made, white “salad dressing,” to look upon which is nauseating.
May heaven preserve us from excessive Anglomania in matters of table service and eating. The English tend to complicate the eating tools far too much. They have too many forks for comfort, and the forms of them are too quaint for practical utility. Certainly silver dessert knives and forks are very good in their way, because they are not susceptible to the action of fruit acids, but it is vain and clumsy to attempt to make too exclusive use of the knife and fork in eating fruit. Don’t imitate, for instance, certain ultra-correct English damsels who eat cherries with a fork and swallow the stones because they are too modest, or rather too asinine, to set them out on to the plate. Eating is not a thing to be ashamed of.
To thoroughly enjoy a peach you must bite it, and feel the juicy perfumed flesh melt in your mouth. But let the Anglomaniacs say what they please, there is no necessity of sticking a fork into the peach, and peeling it while so impaled, as if it were an ill-favored and foul object. A peach is as beautiful to the touch as it is to the eye; a peach held between human fingers has its beauty enhanced by the beauty of the fingers. However dainty and ornate the silver dessert knife and fork may be, it always irritates me to see people out up their peaches, or pears, or apricots, or what not, into cubes and parallelepipeds, as if dessert were a branch of conic sections.
Imitate Marie Antoinette, ladies; use your fingers more freely: eat decently, of course, but do not be the slave of silly Anglomania or Newport crazes. To eat a pair or an apple conveniently, cut it into quarters, and peel each quarter in turn as you eat it. The peach, too, can be cut into quarters, if the eater is timid. Apricots do not need peeling, nor plums either. Would you be bold enough to peel a fresh fig, or to touch such a delicate fruit even with the purest silver instruments? —Theodore Child in Harper’s Bazar, 1890
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