It’s Sunday morning and a little drippy outside. Our day at the zoo has been cancelled – even if our party hadn’t minded getting wet, I imagine most of the animals would be hiding under the driest shelter they could find. Even ‘wild’ beasts know enough to come in out of the rain.
So with no part of a picnic lunch to prepare, I set about to make breakfast for one – just my old standby pancakes and sausage. There is an everyday comfort in hearing the sound of pots and pans coming out of hiding and the first sizzle of butter melting in the pan. When my husband’s home, he generally puts aside his newspaper just long enough for us to converse over breakfast. And while I’m not above talking to myself – in fact, I’m quite accomplished in this art through many years of practice – this morning I opted to open a used book I’d recently purchased from Langhorne’s Antiques: Savory Suppers, Fashionable Feasts.
The book records the dining habits of Victorian America, and knowing very little about the subject, I now know three pages more. I’ve learned that ‘three square meals a day” is a twentieth century invention, and that people once got by on only two meals – a late breakfast and a light early supper. Maybe less food for thought would be a return to a healthier America?
The book describes in detail, the everyday rules that made for good manners at the dining table. And back in the time of my granny’s mother, America was interested in knowing and observing these rules, as noted by the author,
“Etiquette books by the dozen were written by both men and women in the nineteenth century.” ….The importance of ‘good breeding’ at the dinner table was compounded by two facts that most Americans readily recognized. Eating, they acknowledged, was a most basic function, common to both man and animal. Only manners could separate man from beast in the act of consuming food and drink.”
I don’t know what the zoo animals would have to say about this, but I know the two tame beasts I live with observe their own form of mealtime etiquette. Without fail, both begin their meal from their own food bowls, and then sometime mid-course, by apparent agreement, they switch and sample the other’s food. They may or may not switch back. Max almost always finishes first, as Maddie is by far the daintier eater. And without the benefit of an etiquette book to teach him, Max has learned from the school of hard barks that it’s best not to breathe down Maddie’s neck while she’s still eating. But once Maddie has consumed her fill, Max knows he can then move in for the kill and finish up Maddie’s leftovers. These doggie rules of mealtime etiquette are observed three times a day.
But what about breakfast, I wondered. With the books detailed index, I found and consumed this bit of wisdom rather quickly:
“At this first meal of the day a certain amount of freedom is allowed which would be unjustifiable at any other time…”
Here, I see that reading the newspaper, correspondence and even a book is all okay. But what about that bit of fluffy pancake I just fed to Max and Maddie that they took so carefully from my hand? The book breathes absolutely no word of advice.
I guess there are just some mealtime situations where its every beast for himself. But I’m pretty sure I know what Granny would say…