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A Quick Guide to Victorian Etiquette

Friday, May 1, 2020

By ALLISON PARROTT
Site Lead, 1930s George Ranch Home

Looking for a fun stay-at-home date for you and your special someone? Try dining the proper Victorian way tonight!

During the Victorian era, the dining room was not just a room to eat meals; it was also a way to display your wealth with every expensive piece of china or silver that you owned. It was strictly used for the adults of the household (the children would eat in the kitchen with the cook and the nanny to learn proper rules), and was a fine affair. In addition to fine displays of dishware, dinner parties also featured a bevy of social manners that would be upheld by the host and hostess.

Basic etiquette has not changed over the past century (chew with your mouth closed, keep your elbows off the table, etc.), but you’ll notice a few other rules that you’ll need to master before eating in a Victorian social setting:

  • Never eat very fast
  • Never fill the mouth very full
  • Never open your mouth when chewing
  • Never make noise with the mouth or throat
  • Never attempt to talk with the mouth full
  • Never leave the table with food in the mouth
  • Never soil the table cloth, if it is possible to avoid it
  • Never use anything but fork or spoon in feeding yourself
  • Never pick your teeth or put your hand in your mouth while eating
  • Never cut bread; always break it, spreading with butter each piece as you eat it
  • Never hesitate to take the last piece of bread or the last cake; there are probably more
  • Never hold bones in your fingers while you eat from them. Cut the meat with a knife
  • Never use your own knife when cutting butter. Always use a knife assigned to that purpose
  • Never wipe your fingers on the table cloth, nor clean them in your mouth. Use the napkin
  • Never allow butter, soup, or other food to remain on your whiskers. Use napkin frequently
  • Never pass your plate with a knife and fork on the same. Remove them, and allow them to rest upon a piece of bread
  • Never make an effort to clean your plate or the bones you have been eating from too clean; it looks as if you left off hungry
  • Never tip back in your chair nor lounge upon the table; neither assume any position that is awkward or ill-bred
  • Never eat so much of any one article as to attract attention, as some people do who eat large quantities of butter, sweet cake, cheese or other articles
  • Never expectorate at the table; also avoid sneezing or coughing. It is better to arise quietly from the table if you have occasion to do either. A sneeze is prevented by placing the finger firmly on the upper lip
  • Never allow the conversation at the table to drift into anything but chit chat, the consideration of deep and abstruse principles will impair digestion

Victorian Utensils

  • Grape Scissors- Eating with the hands was a rare occasion; fruit and bread were the only foods allowed to touch hands. The grape scissors would cut the desired amount of grapes per the individual, so you would not eat much of that one fruit.
  • Marrow Scoops- For the upper class who were able to afford more high-quality meats such as a roast, this particular utensil was able to scoop out the marrow in the bone.
  • Snail Forks- Snails were often eaten by the lower class, so this utensil made eating the snails look more elegant for the upper class.
  • Sugar Nips- Sugar was expensive and typically kept under lock and key by the lady of the house. She would be the only person allowed to handle the sugar. So, to serve in smaller and usable parts for the table, she cut small portions of sugar (which came in a cone shape).
  • Cheese Scoop- Used to dig out individual servings of semi hard cheese.
  • Chocolate Muddler Spoon- Starting in the 1700s, hot chocolate became a high commodity. These spoons, which are a few inches longer than regular spoons, were used to stir the beverage to prevent the chocolate from settling at the bottom.
  • Mustard Ladle- Mustard has been a popular condiment since before the Middle Ages. This small ladle can scoop mustard for individual servings.
  • Strawberry Fork- This small fork found in a household signified wealth and high status. This fork was only used for dipping strawberries into sweet items such as sugar and whipped cream.
  • Cucumber Server- This spoon is flatter and has cut-outs in the bowl, making it perfect for straining and serving cucumber slices.
  • Cake Breaker- Instead of a regular cake-cutter, this comb-like utensil was meant for cutting more delicate cakes like Angel Food and pastries.
  • Oyster Spoon- This spoon was popular at the later end of the Victorian era. The small spoon had a jagged edge in which to gather fried oysters.
  • Lemon Fork- A tiny fork with sharp tines was able to puncture through the tough rind to serve with seafood or tea.
  • Toast Fork- Eating bread with your hands was allowed once it was on your plate, but you were not allowed to touch the bread straight from the breadbasket. This fork was designed to stab and lift the bread to your bread plate.
  • Sardine Fork- This fork was commonly found in the United States, particularly in the Midwest where seafood was harder to come by until the introduction of canned food. This fork was able to not only stab the fish from the can, but to also lift the fish out of the oil with its wide, slightly curved tines.

(Also, be sure to stop by the Davis Mansion next time you visit the Ranch to see some of the family’s dishware and learn rules of etiquette in person! For now, you can also take the virtual tour on our Facebook page.)

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