Long ago in the Medieval days, when tapestries were hung on castle walls to keep in the heat and moats were built to keep out the unwelcome, there were celebrations of revelry. During such events, not unlike our banquets today, people gorged themselves on the delicacies of the time. Servants brought out huge helpings of food and set them on long tables where the festivities would go on for all hours of the night and into the morning. However, unlike our table setting, there lacked some useful implements. Napkins were not a staple and instead a woolly dog would travel round the seating permitting the hosts and guest to use its fur to wipe the grease off their hands. Fingers were often used rather than forks, bread sopped up the liquid, and bowls were picked up instead of using spoons.
Fast forward to the 21st century and take a walk down the grocery aisle; a revolution of sorts has infiltrated our eating habits. More foods are prepackaged that require little use of utensils and not much more effort than opening the package. Now very common, it appears that like the days of yore, we have accepted the use of our fingers to pick up our food and eat with. Toddlers are seldom required to learn at an early age to use a spoon but rather drink their yogurt from a plastic tube and finger out from a container their peas. Finger food has become the norm, not the exception. And while germ phobia may be a sign of the times, the hysteria has seemed to dodge our shared eating habits.
So while fads come and go, it just may be that using utensils has become a dying art, one that has been replaced with a simpler method; just be sure to pack the hand-sanitizer.
Today’s post brings you the esteemed thinker: Emily Post (b. Emily Price 1890 – 1960) Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Emily came from high society, educated in private school in NYC. She was a well-sought after debutante who married financier Edwin M. Post in 1921. However, after a scandalous divorce a few years later, she found herself having to help support herself and her sons. To supplement a small income Emily Post wrote short stories which were published in the popular fiction magazines Ainslie’s and Everybody’s.
Now as a successful writer and a woman of social position she was encouraged to write a book on etiquette with emphasis on graces. Etiquette—The Blue Book of Social Usage was published in 1922, quickly became a best seller. It went through ten revisions and 89 printings and bringing her fame and fortune. Her “Blue Book, ” earned the title as an American standard of etiquette and was reported to be second only to the Bible as the book most often not returned or stolen from libraries.
And so, I now bring you a snippet from her 1922 book titled ETIQUETTE IN SOCIETY, IN BUSINESS, IN POLITICS AND AT HOME. The portion you shall find is a bit of advice regarding children at the dining table; taken from the chapter “Kindergarten Etiquette”.
“Elementary Table Manners
Since a very little child cannot hold a spoon properly, and as neatness is the first requisite in table-manners, it should be allowed to hold its spoon as it might take hold of a bar in front of it, back of the hand up, thumb closed over fist. The pusher (a small flat piece of silver at right angles to a handle) is held in the same way, in the left hand. Also in the first eating lessons, a baby must be allowed to put a spoon in its mouth, pointed end foremost. Its first lessons must be to take small mouthfuls, to eat very slowly, to spill nothing, to keep the mouth shut while chewing and not smear its face over. In drinking, a child should use both hands to hold a mug or glass until its hand is big enough so it can easily hold a glass in one. When it can eat without spilling anything or smearing its lips, and drink without making grease “moons” on its mug or tumbler (by always wiping its mouth before drinking), it may be allowed to come to table in the dining-room as a treat, for Sunday lunch or breakfast. Or if it has been taught by its mother at table, she can relax her attention somewhat from its progress.
Girls are usually daintier and more easily taught than boys, but most children will behave badly at table if left to their own devices. Even though they may commit no serious offenses, such as making a mess of their food or themselves, or talking with their mouths full, all children love to crumb bread, flop this way and that in their chairs, knock spoons and forks together, dawdle over their food, feed animals—if any are allowed in the room—or become restless and noisy…”
First image: Title: Puffed Rice, c1918. Child in high chair eating at dining room table.