Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Please Eat Your Dessert With the Proper Spoon and Fork!

The other evening Boy and I traveled out to Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where we met our friends Jasper Lambert and Francesca Montmore for dinner at a well-regarded neighborhood restaurant, known for its inventive, delicious, locavore fare.  The place had a distinctly hip vibe, and the average patron was probably no older than thirty.  I enjoyed it.

A framed antique map of the Borough of Brooklyn
Image courtesy of Cottage Home

Yes, even though Reggie lives on the UES of Manhattan, he is not so hidebound that he doesn't occasionally venture beyond it when he is out and about in the city.  He has great respect for and enjoys visiting the storied and historic borough of Brooklyn.  He actually lived in Brooklyn in the early 1980s, when he first moved to New York after college and worked in a bank on Wall Street.  But that was back when people of his sort generally could only be found in one or two neighborhoods in that borough, such as Brooklyn Heights, which is where he—not surprisingly—lived at the time.  Since then, Brooklyn has undergone a veritable renaissance, and today it is a thriving and vibrant metropolis full of neighborhoods that one would be delighted to live in.

But today's post is not about Brooklyn.  It is about eating dessert.

Before I get to that, though, I feel I must explain why I use the word "dessert" to describe the sweet consumed at the end of a meal, instead of "pudding," as my English cousins do.  Even though I sometimes prefer to use words favored in England when referring to something known by a different name in America—such as "aubergine" for what is commonly known here as "eggplant"—I simply cannot bring myself to use the word "pudding" for "dessert," at least not with a straight face.  That is because I consider "pudding" to be what I believe the English refer to as "blancmange," which is what I call the sweet, easy-to-eat, milk-based custard so favored by children in nurseries and the elderly in nursing homes.  Blancmange is a type of pudding, but it is not "pudding" in the sense the English use the word, which is to describe what I call "dessert."

Both pudding and dessert, but not "pudding"
Image courtesy of Vintage Disney Alice

Now that I've got that straightened out, I can attend to the subject at hand, which is actually not about eating dessert, but rather about the proper utensils to use when consuming it.

Hold on, there's a logic to this meander . . .

While dining at the restaurant in Brooklyn with our friends, the four of us ordered dessert to finish our meals.  I ordered what was described on the menu as rhubarb bread pudding, but which was actually a rhubarb crisp.  Not that it matters, really, but I like to be specific about these things.  Anyway, the young woman who brought our desserts to the table delivered them with four teaspoons.

As she did so I asked myself, "Why is this girl . . ." (for Reggie is now old enough to consider most women under the age of twenty five to be young enough to merit such a term) " . . . bringing me a teaspoon?  I haven't ordered coffee!"

It then occurred to me that she expected me to consume my rhubarb bread pudding crisp with a teaspoon, and not with a proper dessert spoon.

"Excuse me, miss," I said, "would you please bring me a dessert spoon?"

She looked at me quizzically.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "I just did."

"Well, actually this is a teaspoon, and not a dessert spoon.  A dessert spoon is larger than this.  And while you are at it, would you also please bring me a dessert fork, too?"

"But that," she said pointing to the teaspoon in front of me, "is what we eat dessert with here at the restaurant."

"That may be so," I said, "but I prefer to eat my dessert with a larger spoon.  And I like to eat it with a fork, too.  May I please have them so I may do so?"

She looked at me as if I were a lunatic.

"Oh, all right," she said, and shrugged.

Just as she was turning to go off and fetch what I requested, the other three people at the table piped in, in unison, "Please bring us a spoon and fork as well!"

It turns out I wasn't the only lunatic at our table.

Even though the young miss brought us each the requested spoons, the forks she provided were dinner-sized, and therefore inappropriately large for the task at hand.  But rather than beginning my little routine all over again and asking her to bring me the proper sized fork, I decided to put up and shut up, and use the dinner fork.  After all, I reasoned, I could still use it for the purpose I intended it for.

Reggie's preferred place setting for when the first course is a soup
and the dessert course is a sweet, such as bread pudding.

That is not a teaspoon placed above the mat . . .

Which gave me the idea for this post, which is that most people in this country haven't a clue as to what the proper utensils are to use when consuming food at table.  No, I am not referring to the use of arcane utensils favored by the Victorians at their most extreme, such as the proper fork to use for a particular type of fish, or the proper spoon to use when consuming a jellied consumé versus a creamed soup.  I'm referring to the most basic spoons and forks that one uses when eating a salad, a soup, an entrée, and dessert.

As was made clear by my Brooklyn dining experience, most people today don't understand the intended functions of a teaspoon, a dessert spoon, or a soup spoon.  They don't know the difference between a dinner fork or a dessert fork, either.  And it is not only in the wilds of Brooklyn that one encounters such ignorance.  I've even witnessed it in my own house, when dining at my own table.  You would be surprised at how many of our dinner party guests use the wrong utensils with which we have set our table at Darlington House.  And these guests of ours are not bumpkins—they are educated, worldly, and cultured people, accustomed to attending dinner parties and dining in smart restaurants.

So here's the deal.  A teaspoon's primary purpose is to stir a cup of tea or coffee.  It is not designed to be used to consume food, at least by adults, even though it does an admirable job of delivering modest amounts of food to one's mouth.  A dessert spoon, also known as a tablespoon, is larger than a teaspoon and delivers a more generous (and more pleasing) amount of food—a mouthful—than a teaspoon is capable of administering.  A tablespoon is the primary and most versatile spoon that one uses when consuming food at table.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
teaspoon, tablespoon, soup spoon, go!

Although some people use tablespoons to consume soup, and Reggie believes it is acceptable to do so in certain cases (particularly in households where the silverware services are not as extensive as his own), he prefers to consume soup using the larger spoons designed for such purpose, and not a tablespoon.  And it is not simply because he is able to do so, having the necessary spoons at his disposal.  No, it is because he adores soup and he finds using the larger spoon allows him to consume more of it with each mouthful than would be possible with a tablespoon, and certainly far more than would be possible with an unsatisfyingly small teaspoon.

When we set the table at Darlington House for a meal where dessert is provided, we almost always set it with a dessert-sized fork and a dessert spoon to consume the sweet.  The fork is smaller than the one provided to consume the main course of the meal, and the spoon is a tablespoon.  Both are placed above the plate, so their intended use is absolutely clear.  When it comes time to eat the dessert, one holds the fork in one's left hand and the spoon in one's right, and uses them together, as opposed to endlessly exchanging one for the other in one's primary hand (the way many Americans use a knife and fork when cutting into and consuming a piece of meat).

A rather elaborate, and to Reggie rather over-set,
formal place setting diagram
Image courtesy of simplehuman

If you have not eaten dessert using a spoon and fork as I describe here, I encourage you to take it upon yourself to do so.  You will be pleased with how pleasant it is, and how much more you appreciate the pleasure of taking your dessert, as opposed to eating it with just a teaspoon.  Once you become accustomed to consuming your dessert this way, with a spoon and fork, you will marvel at how you ever did it any other way (that is, except when eating fruit or cheese at the end of a meal, which is when you would instead use a fork and knife).

Reggie's preferred place setting for when the first course is a salad
and the dessert course is either fruit or cheese

Oh, and the rhubarb bread pudding crisp that triggered this story?  It was delicious, but it would have benefitted from having a small pitcher jug of crème anglaise available to pour over it, to moisten it.  Now that is one English custom—the pouring of creams and custards over one's pudding dessert—that I have unashamedly adopted as my own.  And I suggest that you do, too.

But, please eat your dessert with the proper spoon and fork!

Tell me, do you?

Photographs, unless noted, by Boy Fenwick


  1. I do not necessarily use the fork with dessert as I often enjoy a bit of cream or ice cream with crisps, cobblers, cake, fruit, etc., but I agree with the spoon. And thank you, for not referring to dessert as pudding!

  2. Many of my fellow Brooklynites have no clue how to use basic silverware (knives and forks held in their fists like toddlers, stabbing and sawing away at their food...). I think you have done a great service by showing how it should be done. What's sad is that many people think that these things are "fussy" and "snobbish" instead of realizing that they're efficient and practical, and contribute to the enjoyment of the meal. And I agree-- lovely crème anglaise on a rhubarb crisp-- mmmmmm.

  3. Dear Mr. Darling,

    Obviously, you don't get out into the world as much as I presumed. It doesn't seem to matter where we are - at wonderful, elegant, expensive restaurants or the Cracker Barrel, the majority of people don't have a clue as to how to properly hold a fork and knife. Most young people don't even know how to set a table & certainly have never heard of a "salad fork" much less dessert utensils. My generation (who came to age in the 60's) wanted to break all the rules and as someone (Whoopi Goldberg?) said, we've basically raised a bunch of wolverines.

    Thank you for the post though. It brought back memories of Sunday dinners at my (very correct) grandmother's house. I'm afraid those days are over....

  4. "When it comes time to eat the dessert, one holds the fork in one's left hand and the spoon in one's right, and uses them together...."

    Oh gracious.

    Well, my family, we must have been woefully below grade, because we dined day and evening [different service naturally] using generations' old antique Kirk Repousse. When it came to dessert, the general purpose utensil set out day AND evening was termed the "ice cream fork" [an implement no longer in production] -- a gorgeous utensil, half fork, half spoon.

    A wonderful rememory [not my term, belongs to Toni Morrison] Reggie, thank you.

  5. If I am seeing what I am seeing in your photograph, you actually use old steel knives! Great to see. Bravo! I have set with ivory handles that I love. Yes. They need a bit of upkeep, but it's worth it. Great post!

  6. Reggie, you are a man after my own heart and I'm grateful for it! I use my fork and knife properly, as the Brits do. I hate to be negative but watching how people use a knife and fork here seems sooooooo complicated. And the idea of using a fork as a spoon ....

    As to "pudding" in the English sense of dessert - I've been away so long it seems infantile. I can no longer bring myself to use the word but I have been away for thirty or so years!

  7. Of course, we do at Linderhof!!! It's the only civilized way to eat dessert (or pudding) -- and once you master the spoon and fork way of eating dessert any other way seems quite awkward!

    Upon seeing the table set at Linderhof, one guest asked if they would have a choice of dessert -- since both a spoon and fork were present!!!!


    BTW, you have some lovely cutlery.

  8. Hello Reggie:
    What an absolutely splendid post and one in which, without doubt, you will have opened up the proverbial can of worms.

    We are entirely at one with you here over what you have to say about dessert spoons and forks, both of which are, in our view, and clearly yours, the required utensils with which to eat what we should refer to as pudding [dessert being a term in the UK reserved for fruit or, possibly, a pudding which consists almost entirely of fruit - strawberries, for example, or fruit salad]. But that is neither here nor there. The issue is, of course, the teaspoon and the absence of a proper place setting.

    We fear that your experience is just one more example of a changing world where anything, it would appear, goes.

  9. Naturally, Reggie. And I've run into this problem all over the world. The most famous example that I can remember, which might be apocryphal, is Prince Philip in Alsaka being told, on the clearing away of his dinner plate, to 'keep your fork, Prince, we're having pie'. Sadly, the case is very common. In restaurants I always place my cutlery appropriately on the plate upon finishing a starter, but quite regularly the waiter takes the eating irons off the plate and gives them back to me, before taking the plate away. He might as well pour white wine in my red wine glass, and tip the blancmange in my lap while he is at it.
    These days I always say 'pudding', if only because it deliciously confuses Americans. Something else to savour with dinner, for a wandering Englishman.
    Pip pip.

  10. Actually, there is a world of difference between a dessert spoon, and a table spoon.

    A table spoon, is most considerably larger; its primary purpose, hence its name, being to serve food from plates.

    It is far too large to be placed in the mouth, well one of normal proportions that is, and the bowl is quite deep.

    Is one to assume that you are using a serving utensil to dine with?

  11. But you seem to have embarrassed your server rather than educated your server. I would have preferred to have just asked for what I wanted rather than offering the elaborate explanation and attitude you extended. A careful server would understand the nuance of your request and may have chosen to employ it in the future. I fear now she just thought you a pretentious bore from Manhattan and tried to forget about you.

  12. Thank you, Reggie, for an illuminating post. However, I require a bit more help I fear. In your last example of the setting for a salad course I see two knives to the right of the plate. Is this small knife the same as the dessert knife? Is it to aid in the eating of the salad; two handed as it were like the dessert? Or is it your preferred placement for the bread knife? One suspects both, but perhaps Reggie does not recommend serving bread with the salad? I fail to see a bread plate on the top left of the place setting. Kindest regards, Poppy

  13. Great post! I think that modern flatware service sets come with a salad/dessert fork meant to be used for either and a teaspoon and table/soup spoon.

    I can say that one of my goals as a mom to two small children is to do my best to teach them proper table manners. The way I see it, it's giving them the power and self-esteem necessary to always feel comfortable and at-ease in whatever social settings they might find themselves in later in life.

  14. And I worried I didn't have a Wednesday Etiquette post and you have filled in marvelously. Nothing makes me happier than table setting diagrams. I am thinking of putting together a book with nothing but! It might just sell 3 copies!

  15. thank you! I remember an ex bf of mine who would always give me a teaspoon when we would eat soup at his house -which would drive me insane. I cannot consome soup with a teaspoon -I am not a toddler. Later, while visiting his family, I was shocked to see they did the same thing! We had a long discussion about it and they brought me a proper soup spoon (but not for themselves I might note) which they referred to as a 'serving spoon'. UGH!
    I cannot bear to use a teaspoon for anything other than stirring coffee. I'm of small stature with a porportionate mouth and I find it a huge waste of time so the concept eludes me.

  16. Dear Mr. Darling,

    Thank you for your very informative post. It is a sad state of affairs indeed when such a tutorial is required to inform one of the very basic skills required for enjoyable dining that should, in my humble opinion, be taught to all children at home. I take pride in the fact that my nine year old daughter enjoys sitting at a "grown up" dinner table and using "grown up" utensils, and knows that her drink is placed to the right, and bread plate to the left.

    Oh, and you'll be pleased to note that I've adopted the word "dessert", and dropped the "pudding" over the two decades I've lived in the United States. "Pudding" just sounds so much like nursery speak to my ear (except for Spotted Dick with lashings of custard - that will always be "pudding" to me!).

  17. My pet peeve is not using cream soup spoons for creamed soups. I also adore my tiny strawberry forks. People often mistake them for baby forks or pickle forks. Love the Victorians as they had a piece of silver for every food. Off to find some ice cream forks..........

  18. Hmmm. We seem to have the spoons straight here, but I'm afraid I'm lacking dessert forks in all three sets of flatware. Is it terribly backward to use an additional salad fork (set at the top of the place setting)? Also, when dining at home informally but with friends, is it acceptable to bring in additional flatware when you serve dessert at the table? To avoid this issue, we sometimes serve dessert in the living room or den, and I bring fresh napkins and dessert (salad) forks in on a tray with the coffee. A bonus of this plan is that no one has to think about the table full of dirty dishes until the guests are on their way home.

  19. Ech, these rules are charming and doubtless guidelines worth knowing, but sometimes I want to put more or less of a given dish in my mouth than the condoned utensils allow. In general I find smaller spoons and forks a complete waste of time, and I am no fast eater. Let's skip the teaspoon altogether (no problem in my book, as I drink neither tea nor coffee). Yet another instance where style overrides accuracy in importance (at least in in my book) -- I eat cleanly, efficiently, with gusto, using the most useful tool at hand regardless of title.

    Useful phrase for all life's little transgressions:
    "I don’t play accurately — anyone can play accurately — but I play with wonderful expression."

  20. On a somewhat linear note - what silverware do you hold in your right hand when eating a regular meal? Do you use the continental style or the style most commonly used in America (knife in right & fork in left when cutting, then put knife and fork down, pick up fork with right hand and eat). I am curious as to your thoughts on this. I have lived ouside of the U. S. in two european countries and three asian countries where most people, when not using chosticks or eating banana leaf style, use the continental style of fork in left and knife in right (with no pieces of silverware set down during the course of eating)

  21. I remember, years ago, an architect friend at a dinner party at my house, pointing out to the friend he'd brought, that I'd placed dessert spoon and fork above the plate, and smiling said, 'look there---it means Dilettante has made a delicious dessert'.

    But, I must gently scold you, and admittedly I will reveal myself as a hypocrite for doing so here publicly, rather than in a private email, but this is after all a forum for opinions, sooooo... BUT, I'm afraid I'm firmly with Joseph the Butler. One's server is only as well trained as the instructions and tools her employers give her, for better or worse, and when one refers to oneself as 'of a certain sort' that indicates one should know better than to give the waitress a public lesson. Especially if one is positioning oneself as an arbiter of manners. End of knuckle rapping.


  22. Ah Reggie, perhaps you could expand upon this post? I have been searching for a silver set and am mostly confused. Sets today come with "place settings", which is, I am told, a size between a luncheon and dinner set. They come with "salad forks," "teaspoons," and "tablespoons." Alas, I find "tablespoons" too big to eat with, the wrong shape for soup, and not quite big enough to serve with. Ergo, I am looking for designated soup spoons.

    But I had no idea about the need for separate desert forks, spoons, and knives. I fear that...if you come to my house, you may get a salad fork for desert. I hope the witty conversation and free flowing alcohol will mitigate any unease you may have. And if you write another post that illustrates all the proper cutlery, glasses, and china that one might want to amass, particularly with links to where they could be purchased, I promise to take diligent notes.


  23. TDC: I am glad (but not surprised) that you agree about using such a spoon when consuming dessert. But I encourage you to use a fork, too, as it does an admirable job of aiding one's consumption of yet a bit more of said delicacy with every mouthful, than just a mere spoon provides. He does agree that a fork is not particularly useful, though, when consuming ice cream with a sauce, without an accompanying crisp or cake. Then a spoon--alone--is sufficient.

    Anon 8:13: Thank you for your comment. You have divined the essence of the meaning of etiquette: the promotion of efficiency and practicality, versus the promulgation of the outmoded, snobbish, or fussy. That is why Reggie uses the utensils he is promoting here when consuming food--it's more efficient and practical to do so, and something our forebears figured out long ago. There was a reason the dessert spoon was invented, and it remains a valid one today.

  24. Last week I came across my husband filling a plate with the seaweed upon which a myriad of oysters had been beautifully displayed by our host. On seeing my horrified face he was remained adamant that the seaweed was part of the menu, when he asked the nearest member of the kitchen staff they looked at him in complete shock and disgust.
    Shamed by my own husband!

  25. Dear Sarah: Thank you for your thought-provoking comment. I believe that all is not lost, nor should we simply "give up" because the tides are against us. Martha Stewart has, almost single-handedly, revived what many thought were becoming the lost arts of housekeeping, due to--in large part--what in retrospect was a cruel joke played upon many in the 1960s and 1970s when such skills were devalued, if not discarded. I choose not to run with wolverines because I understand that I needn't, and I encourage my readers to recognize they needn't, either.

    Dear Flo: How lovely to see you have joined the discussion. I believe you are describing what I have seen basely referred to as a "spork" in certain, degraded circles. Do please try the spoon and fork combination I suggest, as I believe you will find it a more elegant means of delivering one's dessert than what you have been using heretofore.

  26. Hello Voicetalk: You of the eagle eyes, yes those are old-fashioned, non-stainless steel blades on our knives. I prefer such a blade to stainless ones. Not only do I prefer the way they look, but they hold a sharper edge than is possible with stainless table knives. And while, as you say, they do require a bit of upkeep (as does anything worth owning I may add), the pleasure one takes in them is well worth the minor inconvenience of caring for them appropriately.

    Dearest Blue: It seems that you and I are in agreement on many things, doesn't it? Not surprising, having had the pleasure of spending a most enjoyable few hours in your company engaging in amusing conversation and the consumption of delicious cocktails. Do give a shout the next time you are in New York, so we can arrange a repeat performance!

  27. Martha: Thank you for your comment, fellow spoon and fork user! I enjoyed your story about your guest's question. I hope they weren't crushed to learn they did not have such a choice ahead of them. But then, I know you are an excellent cook, so I couldn't imagine they would be anything other than delighted.

    VB: Loved the Prince Philip story! Yes, the custom of asking diners to hold on to their irons, as you say, is increasingly prevalent in restaurants these days, and has been steadily creeping up into ones that are, at times, positively shocking to one. I find it quite delicious that you insist on saying "pudding" on principal. As a Brit, I believe that it is your right and appropriate for you to do so.

  28. Jane and Lance Hattat: You and VB are clearly kindred spirits (as are the three of us, I might add) when it comes to the proper use of utensils and what one calls one's sweet. I find it charming when a Brit refers to said course as "pudding," but perplexing when an American calls it anything other than "dessert." And you are correct--this story really is about encouraging my readers to realize that they have options available to them other than a teaspoon to consume said comestible, whatever one calls it.

    Curator: Reggie is most impressed by the particularity of your use of language, and agrees that the preferred dictionary definition of "tablespoon" is to describe what many call a serving spoon. Reggie is using the word here in its alternate acceptable dictionary definition, which is to describe the spoon that many (but clearly not all) use to consume their dessert. I am using "tablespoon" to refer to the spoon that is larger than a teaspoon and smaller than a soup spoon, and is shown in the middle ranking of the photograph of three spoons that I used to illustrate my essay.

    Joseph the Butler: With all due respect, sir, it is clear to me that you did not carefully read this essay, for if you had done so you would not have left such a comment. I encourage you to re-read the exchange I had with the server in the restaurant. If you do so, you will note that my first comment was a straightforward request for a different utensil than what I had been provided. My next was to answer the server's question as to what I meant by it, and my third response was to explain that regardless of the custom of the restaurant to provide diners with a teaspoon to consume their dessert, I preferred a different type of spoon for such purpose. I was pleased that one was available and then provided to me and also to the other three people at the table, as we requested. Reggie was completely civil throughout the exchange, as he endeavors to be always when speaking with all people at all times. Thank you.

  29. Dear Poppy: When setting the table where a salad is going to be served, I set it with medium-sized forks and knives as shown in the photograph you reference. They supplement the knives and forks I also set the table with that are to be used to consume the entrée. They smaller forks and knives are of the same set and size as the ones used (and shown) for the dessert course. One needn't feel compelled to always use a fork and knife to consume a salad, however, and Reggie doesn't always do so. Sometimes he finds a fork alone is sufficient for the task. However, he also finds having a knife available to him when eating a salad often useful (and appreciated) particularly if the salad is a leafy one, versus chopped. That is why Reggie usually sets the table with both a fork and knife for the salad course. Incidentally, when using both a fork and knife to consume said salad, he does so holding the fork in his left hand and the knife in his right, "Continental style." When using solely the fork, he typically holds it in his right hand, "American style."

  30. We always used ice cream forks for dessert and the small spoons in the set of silver I have from my very Southern great Aunt Anne may have to be re-examined- I always thought they were 5 o'clock coffee spoons- I do have 18 iced tea spoons (How Southern is that?) - Ask for one of those in a restaurant and see what kind of look one gets!

  31. Another fascinating post, Mr Darling. Over here, in the UK, most of us lay the table with all the silver, to the right and left of the plate: the pudding spoon and fork would not be above the plate, as in your pictures, but on the inside to the immediate r & l of the plate. Obviously, restaurants, even some of the good ones, still lay the table in the traditional manner, you show us.

    Using large oval spoons for soup and iron bladed knives is ofcourse charming and attractive but in my experience somewhat archaic, most of us use the smaller bowl like soup spoons and stainless steel knives, which can be put in the dishwasher.
    Must go dinners ready !

    Best wishes AR

  32. When I was a child, my grandmother often hosted lunches, teas and dinners for her grandchildren who were otherwise still relegated to the children's table. She was the only adult present, and would use her finest china, crystal and silver. We thought it was a great honor and loads of fun, but I realize now it was her way of having us practice proper table etiquette and conversational skills. That said, even though I know a teaspoon is not a dessert spoon, I prefer to eat desserts requiring a spoon with a teaspoon when no one else is around!

  33. Reggie, I've read your blog for over a year, and I'm surprised at your condescending tone to that lady about using her family silver including what is known in antique circles as a dessert fork. If she enjoys using that utensil, there is no reason on earth why she shouldn't continue in her family's tradition. I have both dessert spoons and pastry forks as well as "dessert forks" in my collection, and I rotate the place settings as the mood strikes. Bearing in mind that ladies don't have the large mouths or appetites that men do, it's dainter to use the dessert fork meaning the fork/spoon implement (for those who might be confused by this interchange) when you are serving them.

  34. While polite society sits ideally by, a billion people on this planet do not even have the luxury of choosing any "food" to put on ANY type of spoon. You are arrogant and foolish. Sell your silver and give the proceeds to the poor.

  35. Anon 11:39: Thank you for your comment. I am sure that your two young children will thank you one day for instilling in them such good manners. As you wisely note, they ease one's ability to move effortlessly and with grace through the world, which is what any of us, I would think, would aspire to do.

    Lucindaville: Make that four copies--please do sign me up for your book, I must have it!

    ArchitectDesign: Thank you for the story you share--it perfectly illustrates why it is I felt compelled to write this essay!

    LizaE: I agree, such matters really should be taught to us as children, at home. Unfortunately, as is relayed in ArchitectDesign's comment, not all are so fortunate to have parents such as you. Oh, and one does adore spotted dick, which is, I believe, a steamed pudding! I first came across this amusingly-named and divinely delicious dessert when attending boarding school in England for a year. I was in Heaven!

  36. Anon 8:41: I imagine that your silver service(s) are far more extensive than those found in many houses these days. I only recently was given a set of silver that included cream soup spoons among the set's nine piece place settings, that once belonged to a great-great Aunt of mine. I have inherited, also, another silver service that has the same strawberry forks as you describe, plus a slew of individual other forks that I cannot figure out what they were originally intended for, despite consulting with the rather extensive resources available for determining such things.

    T&CMom: It is not "backward" at all to set one's table using the same sized fork for both salad and dessert, as you ask. I do it all the time, and have shown it in the two photographs of place settings in this essay. Furthermore, it is more than acceptable to bring in extra sets of silver at the dessert course, and also delightful to move from the table to the living room to have one's dessert, as you write. Believe it or not, Reggie is rather flexible in these matters. If it works, why not? He has been known to serve ice cream in the pretty cut glass bowls he owns whose original purpose was to be used to rinse one's fingers...

  37. This is in reply to the anonymous poster who suggested to Reggie (and, I'm assuming, all of us who are lucky enough to own silver) to sell it and give the proceeds to the poor. Many people who care about such things also give quite a bit of money to various charities and work to make the world a better place for everyone. Unfortunately, selling the family silver isn't going to solve all the problems of the less fortunate, so if you don't care to read an interesting, informative blog, don't. You may think Mr. Darling is arrogant and foolish but he isn't rude which is a refreshing change from so much of what is written over the internet.

  38. Dear Reggie,
    I must agree with Joseph the Butler. I try never to make someone uncomfortable unless they are being rude or hurtful to someone else. Simply asking for a larger spoon would have achieved your goal and perhaps been clearer to her. Otherwise I adore your blog and visit everyday. I am alway disappointed on the days you don't post. As someone who has inherited more than a full set of 19th century tableware and four18th century silver tea sets, I too get a great pleasure from using them.

  39. Hello Nick Heywood: Thank you for your comment, it is most refreshing. I agree, one is free to use what utensils work for one, regardless of their original intended use, rules be damned (but it helps to know them in the first place so it is a matter of choice to adhere to them or ignore them). Just as I occasionally serve ice cream in what were originally intended to be finger bowls, I break other rules, too, from time to time. In the case of this essay, I am seeking to promote the use of a spoon and fork to consume one's dessert (most of the time, anyway) since I find doing so a most efficient and practical means of delivering said sweet to my waiting mouth. Plain and simple? A proper sized spoon and fork work better than a mere teaspoon!

    Anon 12:00 am: Thank you for your question. I mostly consume my meals using the favored "Continental style" of holding one's utensils. But I do, occasionally eat "American style," at least sometimes I hold a fork in my primary hand when eating. I do not, however cut up meat on a plate and then switch the fork in my hands to deliver the morsels to my mouth, as is favored in certain circles on these shores. I find that method to be too complicated, and has a needless number of steps. In such case, the "Continental style" is far more efficient, as far as I am concerned...

  40. Good post, and worrying. Here in Aus we set the table as you have, but the pudding (or desert) spoon and fork do not go above the plates, but use the English way which is to have them all aligned, so one starts eating from the outside to the inside. I can't imagine how people eat soup without using soup spoons,

  41. I often eat rich and sinful desserts, such as creme brulee, with the tiniest teaspoon available in order to prolong the heavenly experience as long as possible.

    And, in defense of my brother, while Reggie may sometimes sound a bit stuffy in his posts, in "real" life, he is actually very sweet and always polite.
    xox Camilla

  42. Dear DED: I encourage you to read my response to Joseph the Butler. I merely asked the young woman who was serving me to bring me a spoon, I then answered her question, and then I responded to her statement, repeating and expanding my initial request. My intention was not to humiliate her or "give her a public lesson." I wanted to eat my dessert with different utensils than what I was being provided with, which is a reasonable request in my view.

    Hello EM: Thank you for your comment, and your question(s). If you find a tablespoon to be too large to comfortably consume soup, I am afraid that you will find an even larger soup spoon to be unmanageable. You may find a bowl-shaped cream soup spoon more to your liking, perhaps. As far as the sources for the silver and china we have and use, it is mostly antique, and has been acquired from many sources: from antiques dealers, at auctions, or inherited. We do have a set of modern plain white china that we use in our city apartment made by Reynaud. We purchased it at Scully & Scully on Park Avenue in Manhattan. In addition to being handsome it can go in the dishwasher, a great convenience when compared with the rest of our china, almost all of which requires hand washing.

  43. Bourbon & Pearls: But, did he enjoy eating the seaweed? I must admit that, outside of a sushi restaurant, I rarely eat it.

    Thomas: Thank you for your comment. I laughed out loud at the expected look that would greet one in a restaurant upon requesting a proper ice tea spoon. Most amusing, indeed.

    Anon 1:40: Thank you for stopping by. I believe the soup spoon you refer to was originally intended for consuming cream soups, and has more recently become more of an all-purpose soup spoon. I prefer to use the old-fashioned larger oval soup spoons we own, in general, and, as I pointed out to VoiceTalk, I prefer to use steel bladed knives (non-stainless) because they hold their sharp much better than stainless steel knives. You are correct, such knives cannot go in the dishwasher, where they would rust, and must be hand washed. Thank you for clarifying the English versus American way of setting the table, I am sure that my readers have found it interesting, as I have.

  44. Anon 2:42: What a wonderful and thoughtful Grandmother you had. I am sure her parties were a treat, indeed. What one does in the privacy of one's home is one's own business, certainly. Needless to say, Reggie is not quite so particular about how he eats, what he eats, where he eats, or how he delivers said comestibles to his mouth when he has the rare pleasure of being at home alone. Fortunately his beloved Pompey doesn't tell tales behind his back...

    Anon 3:08: Oh dear, Reggie didn't mean to be condescending to Flo, he was attempting to be amusing.

    Dear Flo: Please accept my apologies. Reggie begs your forgiveness if he insulted you or you felt condescended to by him. He meant no offense.

  45. Anon 3:31: Please see my inaugural post on this blog, written in December 2009. In it you will find the following statement:

    "This is a life-style blog. If you are looking for a discussion of issues of world peace, famine, and the injustices of our legal system, this is not for you."

    Sarah: Thank you.

    Anon 9:00: Thank you for kind words. My goal in speaking with the server was not to make them uncomfortable, but to request that they bring me different utensils from what I was being provided. That there was a subsequent dialogue is the result of their engaging me in one.

    Hello Janey: Thank you for your comment, and the "Down Under" perspective you bring to the discussion.

  46. I concur with Camilla. Although in my family we fielded whole nation states of various cutlery through the years, I have never known for certain that some spoons weren't just oddly bigger than some other ones. Thank you for the missing piece of information. The world now makes more sense.

  47. "Dear Flo: Please accept my apologies. Reggie begs your forgiveness if he insulted you or you felt condescended to by him. He meant no offense."

    Wellllll, I've thought about it and, okay, I will accept your apology but only if it's sent in the mail along with ALL the objects in this photo, all of them, make sure to pack them carefully before shipping.

    Oh Reggie, of course I took no offense, but thank you for being sure my dignity wasn't trampled. I do think lots of folks' dignity [or would that be plural?] gets shook around by a few things said, the business of "our kind" and "our sort" and judgements based on pronunciation. We humans are a fragile mix of emotions, the occasional ruffle of feathers will happen. You always seek to even things out.

  48. LPC: Thank you, and you do know how to turn a phrase, m'dear!

    Flo: Thank goodness, I was a trembling mess of unhappy nerves, fearing you had taken offense at my clumsy attempt at humor. You are too kind. Now, about those saucers...

  49. Interesting how these customs change from culture to culture. I remember many years ago when I'd first moved to Italy eating salad with a knife; I was quickly reprimanded for it. In Italy you eat salad only with a fork, never with a knife. I asked my informative friend what do if the lettuce leaves are too big for a single bite. "It's your hostess's responsibility to make sure the pieces are bite sized," she said.

  50. Dear Reggie,
    This continues to be an interesting topic. I just learned that the soup spoons I inherited in my mother's silver set are cream soup spoons. This set of Wallace Sterling was purchased by her for her own trousseau a piece at a time during the 1940's. As a child, it was my job to set the holiday table with our best settings, and I took the job on with all the seriousness a child can muster. My mother told me to follow the diagram in her Betty Crocker Cookbook, which was virtually identical to the diagram you have posted above. I grew up in the mid-west, Betty's test kitchens were just down the road, half way to down town.

    My silver set contains serrated dinner knives and half sized, rounded blade butter knives. Now I feel it is much more sensible to have smaller real knives such as you show in your salad setting than a dedicated butter knife. It is rather fun to ponder who makes the decision what to include in the set. I have the large wooden silver chest, nicely lined with silver cloth, where each shape has its own formed slot. This was no doubt given as a come-on early in the sales pitch to encourage all the young women in the need to fill it up with a full set.

    I fear the decision was made by the marketing department. Still, using the silver brings back many memories of celebrations past.

    Getting back to your elegant table settings in your pictures, I am also curious about the square - plate?, charger?, place mat? under your dinner plate. Very handsome, and no doubt functional. Along with enjoying pictures of your saucer collections, we seem equally interested in your table settings as well. Kindest Regards, Poppy

  51. Wow, 50 comments! Who'd have thunk it?

    I'm generally oblivious to table settings and things of this sort, but I did notice the restaurants we went to in France generally gave diners a very large spoon with the dessert course. I liked that very much, as it aided in my gluttony-driven shoveling process.

    I was hoping one question would be answered without my having to ask it but no such luck. So, just out of curiosity, when one's dessert is something as simple as a rhubarb crisp, why would one want both a spoon and a fork?

  52. "Flo: Thank goodness, I was a trembling mess of unhappy nerves, fearing you had taken offense at my clumsy attempt at humor."

    Zounds! Reginald Ambrose, do you not have me mixed up with another of your refined friends known to you, perhaps, by a similar name? As much as I appreciate this kind of sorting out, the truth is, compared to those in your circle, I am a peasant.

    My father made the mistake of accepting a depression-era job in the deep south, and this is when the blood line got ruined by the tragic addition of my bohemian mother. Oh how his siblings and parents lamented the union. And that's how i got born, a compromised mess unaccepted by the patricians in "the north," branded forever as "socially disadantaged."

    So what do I know?

  53. Paul Gervaise de Bédée: It is interesting to read that Italians disdain knives when eating a salad. Would that we all had such thoughtful hostesses as to be assured that our lettuce leaves were always so appropriately sized as your informative friend suggested.

    Poppy: Reggie admits that he doesn't, to the best of his knowledge, possess butter knives, at least of the kind shown in the diagram featured in his essay. He does have a plethora of small multipurpose knives, as shown in the third photograph, that he uses for a variety of purposes. As far as the square object shown below the plates goes, it is a placemat from a set that I bought many years ago at the Army and Navy in London, and is of the scale favored for such things in England: smaller than what we are accustomed to on this side of the pond. Thank you for asking.

    Anon 4:38: Yes, the volume of comments here is rather astonishing, isn't it? To answer your question, think of using a fork and spoon to consume one's dessert as somewhat akin to using a whisk broom and dustpan to gather up one's sweeping--it aids the task of getting as much into the dustpan (mouth) as possible! Alternately, it is like using a fork and a knife (in the Continental style) where the spoon acts as both a shovel (as you delightfully put it) and a knife.

    Dear Flo: There can only be one of you, for they broke the mold when they graced us with your presence. And believe me, I think you know a lot!

  54. Dear Reggie, of course you are absolutely spot on about the dessert spoon and fork. I always give people both and a fork for cake xx

  55. Darling Reggie: Loved the post so much we commented twice... to tell you we linked to this in our current Wednesday Etiquette. Who knew a dessert spoon could cause so much activity.

  56. There's also a great difference between a teaspoon and a coffee spoon. Teaspoons are smaller than what we call teaspoons, which are, in reality, coffee spoons.
    Just saying.

  57. Just a few remarks:
    1. The soup spoon should be rounded, not elongated, as dessert and tablespoons are. It is almost impossisble to find proper soup spoons in the USA.
    2. The tablespoon is not the same as the dessert spoon. In Europe, the tablespoon is much bigger than the dessert spoon and would be uncomfortable to fit into a normal human mouth (hence many recipe catastrophes when using the US "tablespoon" measure). Tablespoons are used as serving spoons.

    But I do agree with you than many, in fact most people seem unable to grasp the basic skills of using cutlery (silverware) properly. One of my pet hates is seeing people holding a knife like they would hold a pen.

  58. Reggie,
    This was a very enjoyable post. Maybe you can help me discern the proper use of my Gorham Old French spoons, which I recently acquired.

    I have 7" spoons with oval bowls that come to a slight tip/point and 7 and 1/2" spoons with large oval bowls...which one is for soup and which one is for dessert?
    Thank you!

  59. Unfortunatelly Dear, the average person, average salary, average place to eat, does not even know that dessert knife, fork and spoon even exist, much less would they know to distinguish what is in fron of them. Like someone said above the 60's generation still has its effect these days. My parents were 70's kids and my grandparents were very strict about etiquette and maners in general. So my sisters and I hit the jackpot, no fuss about what you mention here.
    Let me tell you about our experience in college: Some of our college friends, less fortunate than my sisters and myself, asked us to go shopping with them so they could have their flatware complete like ours. It came as a surprise to us (sisters and me) that the average store sell settings that only include the very basic: dinner knife, spoon and fork; salad fork and teaspoon. That's it.
    We asked the salespeople about dessert fork and spoon? Seafood fork? Demi spoons? We were looked at like we just descended from Mars!
    It would be nice the American manufacturers of flatware either included the "extra" utensils or sold them as set at reasonable prices like they do with most stainless steel sets. After all, we noticed, most people do favor stainless steel and then we Americans wouldn't be seen by foreigners like we are all hillbillies;)


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