Use your fingers or a fork? Dining table etiquette tips from the ’20s

Fingers or fork Etiquette tips on how to eat certain foods (1921)

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Do you use your fingers or a fork? Etiquette tips on how to eat certain foods (1921)

In conveying the food to the mouth, the handle of the fork should not be kept against the palm, as to do so would give it an awkward appearance in lifting to the lips. Fork and knife should be held firmly, but without any apparent exertion of strength.

Never strive to load the fork with meat and vegetables at the same time. To do so is to commit an offense against manners and digestion, and never push the food from the fork with the knife. Take upon the fork what it will easily carry and no more.

In using the fork in the left hand, it should be lifted to the lips, tines pointing downward. The fork, which should convey but a very moderate amount of food, should always be carried to the mouth in a position as nearly parallel to it as possible. This does away with the thrusting motion and the awkward sweep of the elbow that is so annoying to the onlooker.

The fork is also used to convey back to the plate bits of bone or other substances unfit to swallow. Eject them quietly upon the fork and quickly deposit them upon the edge of the plate.

1921 tea women food

Advice on dining table etiquette

There are a number of things that the most fashionable and well-bred people now eat at the dinner table with their fingers. They are:

Olives, to which a fork should never be applied; asparagus, whether hot or cold, when served whole, as it should be; lettuce, which, when served in whole leaves, should be dipped in the dressing or in a little salt; celery, which may be properly placed upon the tablecloth beside the plate.

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To these may be added strawberries, when served with the stems on, as they are in most elegant houses. Dip them in cream and then in sugar (sometimes sugar only is served), holding by the stem end and eating in one or more bites, according to size.

Bread, toast, and all tarts and small cakes; fruit of all kinds, except melons and preserves, which are eaten with a spoon; cheese, except the softer varieties; all these are eaten with the fingers, even by the most fastidious people. Then the leg, or other small piece of a bird is taken up daintily in the fingers of one hand at fashionable dinners.

Watercress is taken in the fingers. It is usually served upon a shallow dish or a basket, a fringed napkin covering bottom and sides.

Lump sugar may be taken with the fingers, if no tongs are provided. If a plate of hot, unbroken biscuit is passed, one may be broken off with the fingers.

The softer cheeses are eaten with a fork. As to the harder varieties, some use the fork and others break with the fork and convey to the mouth with the fingers.

Use the fork to break up a potato on your plate; do not touch it with the knife.

Ices, stiffly preserved fruits, etc., are all eaten with fork. In fact, the fork is to convey all food to the mouth that is not so liquid in its nature as to require the use of a spoon.

Large pieces of bread are broken into smaller pieces before being buttered and carried to the mouth.

Cake may be broken and eaten like bread or crackers, or it may be eaten with a fork.

Celery, olives, radishes, salted nuts, bonbons, preserved ginger and other trifles are eaten from the fingers, but berries, melons, and grapefruit must be eaten with a spoon.

Bananas are generally eaten with a fork. Peaches, apples and pears are peeled, quartered and cut into small pieces and then picked up with the fingers.

Grapes and small plums are eaten from the fingers, and the stones or skins taken into the hand and carried to the plate, never dropped from the lips. Prune seeds are best pressed out with the spoon before the fruit is eaten, and then laid to one side on the plate.

Bones of fowl, game or chops must not be taken in the fingers, but green corn may be eaten that way.

Artichokes, source of much grief to the inexperienced diner, if served hot or cold with sauce must be broken apart, leaf by leaf, and the tip dipped in the sauce, and eaten from the fingers. The heart is cut up and eaten with a fork.

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People at the dining table - Etiquette tips - 1926

More etiquette tips for dinnertime

Finger bowls are provided merely to moisten the fingertips, not for a general hand-washing.

Your host who inquires what portion of poultry or game, raw meat or well done you prefer will thank you for a definite answer. If you really have no preference, say so definitely. Do not enumerate various cuts that appeal to you.

Avoid any little mannerism that indicates extreme fussiness or finicalness of taste. The person who appears to be examining minutely every morsel that he takes on his fork makes one feel that he is suspicious that the food is not entirely what it ought to be.

So, too, the person who samples every viand very carefully before beginning in earnest to eat is too finical to be a pleasant table companion.

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