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Speak of Your Courtesy

Propriety in Cooking and Feasting

Georg Philipp Harsdoerffer. Vollstaendiges Trincir-Buechlein handlend. Nuremberg, 1640.

Appropriate behavior in both cooking and eating was of great concern in Shakespeare's England and was addressed in numerous published volumes. Not only was the treatment of servants dictated but also rules for the proper serving and consuming of food. For example, in a guide to "ladies, gentlewomen, and maids" published in 1668, Hannah Woolley commanded her readers, "Put not your Knife to your mouth unless it be to eat an Egge." Good table manners were crucial to maintaining social relations since they were thought to express respect for hosts and others worthy of esteem.

While bills of fare in cookbooks note the proper order for serving each course, carving manuals like Harsdoerffer's give instruction to servants on how to carve in public. Here the housewife employs the basic tools necessary: a napkin to cover her arm, a broad carving knife to present food on, and a two-tined fork to hold the meat in place. Presentation of dishes in the correct order by the server was a part of the dining ceremony. The butler dispensed drinks from the tiered cupboard at the rear and served sauces. The basin and ewer was used by each person to wash his hands between the first and second courses.

Hannah Woolley. The accomplish'd ladies delight in preserving, physick, beautifying, and cookery. London, 1684

Additional Information

Hannah Woolley instructed her audiences about hospitality and servitude after the Civil War for the "general good of my country." Her manual illustrated the fluctuations in the social order as well as the growing attention given to private dining and entertaining.

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