Manners and social usages,


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A correspondent writes, “How shall I carry my fork to my mouth?” The fork should be raised laterally to the mouth with the right hand; the elbow should never be crooked, so as to bring the hand round at a right angle, or the fork directly opposite the mouth. The mother cannot begin too early to inculcate good manners at the table, and among the first things that young children should learn is the proper use of the fork.

Again, the fork should not be overloaded. To take meat and vegetables and pack them on the poor fork, as if it were a beast of burden, is a common American vulgarity, born of our hurried way of eating at railway-stations and hotels. But it is an unhealthy and an ill-mannered habit. To take but little on the fork at a time, a moderate mouthful, shows good manners and refinement. The knife must never be put into the mouth at any time–that is a remnant of barbarism.

Another correspondent asks, “Should cheese be eaten with a fork?” We say, decidedly, “Yes,” although good authorities declare that it may be put on a morsel of bread with a knife, and thus conveyed to the mouth. Of course we refer to the soft cheeses–like Gargozola,

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Brie, cream-cheese, Neufchatel, Limburger, and the like–which are hardly more manageable than butter. Of the hard cheeses, one may convey a morsel to the month with the thumb and forefinger; but, as a general rule, it is better to use the fork.

Now as to the spoon: it is to be used for soup, for strawberries and cream, for all stewed fruit and preserves, and for melons, which, from their juiciness, cannot be conveniently eaten with a fork. Peaches and cream, all the “wet dishes,” as Mrs. Glasse was wont to call them, must be eaten with a spoon. Roman punch is always eaten with a spoon.

On elegant tables, each plate or “cover” is accompanied by two large silver knives, a small silver knife and fork for fish, a small fork for the oysters on the half-shell, a large table-spoon for soup, and three large forks. The napkin is folded in the centre, with a piece of bread in it. As the dinner progresses, the knife and fork and spoon which have been used are taken away with the plate. This saves confusion, and the servant has not to bring fresh knives and forks all the time. Fish should be eaten with silver knife and fork; for if it is full of bones, like shad, for instance, it is very difficult to manage it without the aid of a knife.

For sweetbreads, cutlets, roast beef, etc., the knife is also necessary; but for the croquettes, rissoles, bouechées, à la Reine, timbales, and dishes of that class, the fork alone is needed. A majority of the made dishes in which the French excel are to he eaten with the fork.

After the dinner has been eaten, and the dessert reached, we must see to it that everything is cleared

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off but the table-cloth, which is now never removed. A dessert-plate is put before each guest, and a gold or silver spoon, a silver dessert spoon and fork, and often a queer little combination of fork and spoon, called an “ice-spoon.”

In England, strawberries are always served with the green stems, and each one is taken up with the fingers, dipped in sugar, and thus eaten. Many foreigners pour wine over their strawberries, and then eat them with a fork, but this seems to be detrimental to the natural flavor of the king of berries.

Pears and apples should be peeled with a silver knife, cut into quarters, and then picked up with the fingers. Oranges should be peeled, and cut or separated, as the eater chooses. Grapes should be eaten from behind the half-closed hand, the stones and skin falling into the fingers unobserved, and thence to the plate. Never swallow the stones of small fruits; it is extremely dangerous. The pineapple is almost the only fruit which requires both knife and fork.

So much has the fork come into use of late that a wit observed that he took everything with it but afternoon tea. The thick chocolate, he observed, often served at afternoon entertainments, could be eaten comfortably with a fork, particularly the whipped cream on top of it.

A knife and fork are both used in eating salad, if it is not cut up before serving. A large lettuce leaf cannot be easily managed without a knife, and of course the fork must be used to carry it to the mouth. Thus, as bread, butter, and cheese are served with the salad, the salad knife and fork are really essential.

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Salt-cellars are now placed at each plate, and it is not improper to take salt with your knife.

Dessert-spoons and small forks do not form a part of the original “cover;” that is, they are not put on at the beginning of the dinner, but are placed before the guests according as they are needed; as, for instance, when the Roman punch arrives before the game, and afterwards when the plum-pudding or pastry is served before the ices.

The knives and forks are placed on each side of the plate, ready for the hand.

For the coffee after dinner a very small spoon is served, as a large one would be out of place in the small cups that are used. Indeed, the variety of forks and spoons now in use on a well-furnished table is astonishing.

One of our esteemed correspondents asks, “How much soup should be given to each person?” A half-ladleful is quite enough, unless it is a country dinner, where a full ladleful may be given without offence; but do not fill the soup-plate.

In carving a joint of fowl the host ought to make sure of the condition of both knife and fork. Of course a good carver sees to both before dinner. The knife should be of the best cutlery, well sharpened, and the fork long, strong, and furnished with a guard.

In using the spoon be very careful not to put it too far into the mouth. It is a fashion with children to polish their spoons in a somewhat savage fashion, but the guest at a dinner-party should remember, in the matter of the dessert-spoon especially (which is a rather large implement for the mouth), not to allow

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even the clogging influences of cabinet pudding to induce him to give his spoon too much leeway; as in all etiquette of the table, the spoon has its difficulties and dangers. Particularly has the soup-spoon its Scylla and Charybdis, and if a careless eater make a hissing sound as he eats his soup, the well-bred diner-out looks round with dismay.

There are always people happy in their fashion of eating, as in everything else. There is no such infallible proof of good-breeding and of early usage as the conduct of a man or woman at dinner. But, as every one has not had the advantage of early training, it is well to study these minute points of table etiquette, that one may learn how to eat without offending the sensibility of the well-bred. Especially study the fork and the spoon. There is, no doubt, a great diversity of opinion on the Continent with regard to the fork. It is a common German fashion, even with princes, to put the knife into the month. Italians are not always particular as to its use, and cultivated Russians, Swedes, Poles, and Danes often eat with their knives or forks indiscriminately.

But Austria, which follows French fashions, the Anglo-Saxon race in England, America, and the colonies, all French people, and those elegant Russians who emulate French manners, deem the fork the proper medium of communication between the plate and the mouth.