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CHAPTER FIVE: MEALTIMES AND MANNERS--PART ONE, BASIC MANNERS AND EVERYDAY MEALS
A Hobbit’s Day is properly divided by six Meals: first breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, teatime and supper. In some Families, especially among the Gentry, the Family may sleep later than a Proper First Breakfast, and meals instead may be breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, teatime, dinner and then supper.
Meals are to be approached in the Proper Spirit, and with Respect for the Food. Even if one is eating alone, one should pay attention to one’s food, and use Good Manners--not simply eat distractedly to fill an Empty Stomach!
When one dines in Company, the first Conversation should always be about the Food Before One. One should pay attention to the dishes served, the way in which they were Prepared, and the Ingredients used to Prepare them. It is proper to comment on the Flavors and Textures of the various Dishes set before one, and to discuss the Preparation of the Food. If the Cook is also partaking of the Meal, he or she may choose to describe how it was cooked. And it is not only Proper, but also very well done, to Compliment the Cook for his or her skill.
After this, the conversation may gradually turn to Food in General, and from there, as the meal nears its End and one has progressed to Filling Up the Corners, more general subjects of Conversation may be Introduced. Even so, it is well to keep to Topics of a Congenial Nature, and to avoid Serious or Unpleasant Subjects until the Meal is ended. And it should go without saying that one should not Discuss Business at the Table!
One should also never allow a Companion to Eat Alone. That would be very Rude indeed! If, for example one calls upon a person while that person is partaking of Tea, and one has already had one’s own Tea, it is nevertheless Good Manners to at least Nibble on Something. A biscuit and a cup of Tea will do.
If by some chance, one is served an Unfamiliar food, it is as well to try it. Since Good Manners require one to Talk about the food, it will not be thought amiss to Inquire as to the Ingredients and Method of Preparation. Even if it contains something one dislikes, one should eat a bit of it anyway. It is surprising how much difference a new Method of Preparation makes, and a Vegetable one Loathes when boiled might turn out to be quite Toothsome when fried or baked. If the food truly is something one heartily Dislikes, take at least a bite or two, and by disturbing the Remainder upon one’s plate, perhaps disguise one’s distaste.
It is quite Rude to reach in front of someone else. One should Always ask for the food to be Passed to one. By the same token, if one’s neighbor has asked for the Bread to be passed, it is also Rude to take one for oneself before sending it on. Wait until it is Returned. If it was the Last Piece upon the plate, then one is sadly out of luck.
One should never take such large Mouthfuls that one cannot chew with one’s mouth Closed. It is very Unpleasant to watch someone chewing with his or her mouth open. One should always avoid Speaking with his or her mouth full. To this end, do not Ask a Question of someone who has just placed food in his or her mouth--this puts him or her in the Dilemma of either speaking with a full mouth or rudely ignoring one’s Question!
One should use a small bit of Bread to push one’s food upon his or her Fork, never the Spoon or even Worse, the Knife! Do not cut up all the meat at one time, but cut off small pieces one at a time. Break bread into smaller pieces before putting Butter or Jam upon it.
If one is at table with a number of Persons, one should not begin to take Third Helpings until everyone else has had a chance to take Seconds. Only if one is certain no one else will be taking Thirds should one take Fourth Helpings!
When it is clear that no one will be taking further Helpings, and Afters have been served then one may begin Filling Up the Corners, with small pieces of Bread or Cheese, Pickles, or other Bits that may be eaten with the Fingers. But one should use one’s Napkin afterwards, and not Lick or Suck upon the Fingers!
The most Important Thing one should remember about Basic Good Manners is to eat in a Fashion that will help to make the Meal Pleasant for all who are seated at the table.
First Breakfast is usually a light and simple meal, undertaken soon after arising, usually sometime between Dawn and Seven O‘ Clock. Even though it is Early in the Day, one should Wash and Comb one’s head and Brush one’s feet. If one is alone, it is permissible to eat first breakfast in one’s Dressing Gown, but one should Never do that in Company--it is Slovenly and Unkempt.
The meal usually consists of some sort of Porridge, with some Fruit and a Sweet Bread of some sort or other, along with a cup of Tea, or on Special Occasions, Coffee. Rarely it may be a heartier meal, especially if one faces a morning of Hard Work or Travel before partaking of second breakfast.
At First Breakfast, there may be little Conversation until one has Partaken of Tea or Coffee. It is, after all, very Early in the Morning.
In spite of that, Hobbits who make a Habit of Sleeping Late and missing First Breakfast are missing an Important part of their Day. It is Unwise to habitually indulge oneself in such Indolence.
Second Breakfast is a Larger and more Substantial Meal and is normally served at Nine O‘ Clock of the Morning. In the Great Families, it is often served from a Sideboard, and a number of Dishes may be offered, from which a Guest may serve him or her self. In smaller homes, this meal usually consists of Eggs, prepared in a number of ways, Sausages or Ham and Bacon, Fried Potatoes or Mushrooms, and Toast or Scones, and perhaps Griddlecakes as well. A number of Jams and Preserves, Honey, and Butter, should be offered as Condiments. Tea, Milk or Fruit Juice may be offered as beverages.
At Second Breakfast, it is not considered Improper, if it has been delivered, to Read One’s Post. However, generally speaking, Reading at Table in the Company of others is not considered Good Manners--for it takes away from the sharing of Companionship and the Proper Appreciation of the Food. If one chooses to peruse one’s Correspondence at Second Breakfast, this should always be near the End of the Meal, and any relevant News or Greetings should be shared with one’s Companions.
Second Breakfast is, unfortunately, often eaten More Quickly than is truly Seemly, as many Hobbits are in a hurry to get on with the Business of the Day. This is unfortunate, and is not Conducive to Proper Digestion. The hobbit who Hurries through his or her Second Breakfast may regret it before Elevenses.
Elevenses take place, of course, at Eleven O’ Clock of the Morning. This is a very Informal sort of Meal, and is often as simple as a few Biscuits and a Cup of Tea, though if one has Guests, the Meal may be a more proper one. Some hobbits dispense with Elevenses, or take it as they Work.
However those who do not take Elevenses often find that their Day is not Right. It will lead to eating Luncheon too soon, for one thing, which means that one will get Hungry again far before Teatime. It is best to eat at least Something at Eleven O’ Clock, in order to Regulate the Day.
Elevenses is the Meal most often eaten Alone or with few in Company. It is taken by the Master in his study or the Mistress in her solar. The Farmer in the field will take with him a Bucket of Victuals for his Elevenses, or the Child at play may have a Basket from which to Picnic.
It is also the meal most often taken in Inns or Eating Houses, in which case it usually consists of Ale and Bread and Cheese.
Luncheon should be served at One O’ Clock of the Afternoon. This is the first Dinner of the Day (the second being Supper), and should be a substantial one.
There should be at least three courses: Soup or Salad, depending on the Weather; the Main Course, which should include Meat, Fish or Fowl of some sort, Vegetables prepared in a number of ways, and Bread; and a Sweet of some kind for Afters. When there are a number of Guests, there might also be Other Courses: Savory pies and the Like.
And of course, there should be some Cheese, Bread, and small Finger Food for the Filling Up of Corners.
It is best, if one should Possess such a room in one’s Smial or Cottage, to hold Luncheon in a proper Dining Room. This honors its Position as a Major Meal, and is Conducive to Better Manners than are often found when dining around the Kitchen Table. However, it must be conceded that many Hobbits do not have such a Room.
In that case, one should take care to Lay the Table nicely, and Observe the Niceties of Manners when taking Luncheon in the Kitchen.
Teatime, depending on one’s Social Standing, takes place between Three O’ Clock to Five O’ Clock of the Afternoon. Hobbits of the Working Classes, especially those in Service, usually take the Meal earlier, while those of the Gentry tend to take the Meal a bit later in the day.
For a Hobbit taking Tea alone, this may consist of little more than a few biscuits or a piece of cake, with a Cup of Tea. However, if one has Guests, it is customary to Serve more Substantial Fare: savory tarts, sandwiches, boiled eggs, mushrooms, biscuits--both Sweet and Savory, scones, and cakes are all considered Proper Fare for Tea. It is often done to serve Clotted Cream and Jam to Accompany scones or cakes.
Tea is usually taken in the Sitting Room. A tea table and a tea trolley are very Useful to have, although not strictly Necessary, for a tray will serve as well. It Goes Without Saying that Tea should be served in Cups, not Mugs!
It is customary for the Mistress of the home to Pour, or if the gathering is at the Home of a Bachelor, the host may pour, or as an honor ask a Female Guest to do so.
One should pick up one’s cup and saucer together, cup in one hand and saucer in the other. Hold the cup carefully by the Handle. It is an Affectation to extend one’s last two fingers. This is not only Unnecessary but looks very Silly indeed, and sometimes will lead to one’s being Mocked by irreverent Young Persons. (Very Rude of them, of course, yet it Will happen!)
When stirring one’s Tea, one should be careful not to Clink! This is a Most Annoying habit. Do not leave the Spoon in the Cup, either--it is not only Impolite, but can result in Collisions with one’s nose, and the spilling of one’s Tea! Instead, when finished stirring, place the spoon upon the saucer. One should Never pour one’s Tea into the Saucer to cool it! If it is too hot, one should either wait for it to cool, or discreetly Blow Gently--do not Huff and Puff!
If one takes Milk in one’s Tea (and this is best for Children) it should be poured in After the tea has been poured. Sugar should be offered, or Honey, though some Hobbits prefer to take their Tea without.
It is Rude to pile one’s Plate. Instead, one should take only one or two offerings at a time, and then Replace it with another when one is finished. The host or hostess should never eat the last item. Rest assured one of the Guests will take it if Urged.
Supper is usually the Second Dinner of the day. (The exception being Holidays and other Special Occasions, when the Second Dinner is called “Dinner” and Supper is a later, smaller meal.) It is taken, depending upon when one has had one’s Tea, at either Seven O’ Clock or Eight O’ Clock of the Evening.
As with Luncheon, there should be a Certain Amount of formality to Supper. The table should be nicely laid, and there should be three to four courses, not counting the Filling Up of Corners. At Supper, sometimes there is *both* Salad and Soup, and often a Roast of some sort as the Meat, accompanied by as few as three to as many as six, Vegetables, with Bread and other Side Dishes, such as Potatoes or Noodles.
It is usual to have a more elaborate and fancier Sweet for Afters at Supper than at Luncheon, as one will soon be Retiring for the Night, and will not have to worry about the Sleepiness engendered, as after Luncheon. Gravy, Jam, Honey, Butter, Pickles and Relishes are Condiments that may be served with Supper.
And then of course, the Corners may be filled by any Leftovers, as well as cheese or other Savory Treats.
WHEN THERE IS A LATER SUPPER
As has been Previously Mentioned, some Folk are known to call “Supper” “Dinner” and to have another meal somewhat later, which they call “Late Supper”. When this is the case, this last Meal is a lighter one, usually consisting only of some sort of Soup or Stew, a bit of Bread, and perhaps a Salad with a piece of Fruit for Afters. When a meal is eaten so Late at Night, it is best not to Overload the Stomach, lest it lead to Uncomfortable Sleep and Unpleasant Dreams.
THE LAYING OF THE TABLE
One should use a Tablecloth when the Dining Room is used; if eating in the Kitchen, such is not necessary, although at Luncheon and Supper, it is a Nicety. One places the Silverware, Plate and Napkin about an inch from the edge of the table, with the Plate in the Center. Place the Fork at the Left of the Plate, upon the Napkin. The Knife should be to the Right of the Plate, blade facing the Plate. The Spoon should be to the Right of the Knife. The Soup Bowl may be placed on the Plate. The Cup, Mug, Goblet or Tumbler should be placed Above the Knife and Spoon, depending of course, on what Sort of Beverage is to be Served. At a Formal Dinner Party, a Salad Fork and a Soup Spoon may also be placed. To use Other Sorts of Silverware is sheer Ostentation and Showing Off.
Although in some of the Great Houses it is not uncommon to place Flowers on the Table, the best sort of Centerpiece is Food. Usually the Sweet for Afters can make an attractive Centerpiece--a lovely Cake, a platter of Tarts or a pretty Trifle in a Glass Bowl are very nice to look upon during the rest of the Meal. A bowl of Fruit, nicely Arranged is also a good idea for a Centerpiece, as well as being Useful when the time comes for Filling Up the Corners.
Questions sometimes asked about basic Manners:
What if there are Certain Foods one may not eat for Health reasons?
It is as well to Make it Known when Accepting an Invitation which foods one may not Safely eat. It is unfortunately true that some Hobbits have Adverse Reactions to foods which other Hobbits may Eat with Impunity. The Wise Host will take note of this. And it should go without saying that it is Unkind to Gloat when eating a Forbidden Item in front of such an Unfortunate Person!
What is the best way to Reprove a Child’s Manners when at Table?
Of course it is sometimes Necessary to Rebuke a Child. Often a Disapproving Look or a Mild Word will Do the Trick. If not, as I advised in a Previous Chapter, send the child Away from the Table.
When there are large Gatherings, children should, if possible, be seated at a Separate Table, which may be Overseen by a Reliable Tween or perhaps a Servant. It is best for the Adults to pay No Attention to this Table, and Turn a Blind Eye to any Minor Infractions.
What if one must Keep Company with someone who is Ill when they are having their Meals?
Of course, an ill or injured person should never have to be Left Alone, especially at Mealtimes. Yet the person who is Sitting with them may prefer to take his or her own Meal elsewhere. Under those Circumstances, it is a good idea to put a few extra Biscuits or perhaps some Toast upon the Invalid’s tray, along with an extra Cup of Tea, so that the Companion may have something to Nibble, for Politeness’ Sake.
Also, if one is Keeping Company with such a person, do remember that he or she may be somewhat Off his or her Feed, or may have his or her Food regulated by the Healer. Coax only so much as will not Distress the Patient!
The most Important Thing to remember about Mealtimes is that one should strive to make them a Pleasant Experience for All Concerned. Refraining from those actions which will Disgust one’s Companions and Observing the Niceties will help to accomplish that.
*Much of the information about teatime was taken from this site:
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