Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Table manners for children.

Today, July 24th

The theologian and early Methodist John Wesley asked his mother for child-rearing advice during some correspondence between them in 1732. She had had nineteen children, so could be expected to have experience to impart, but it is puzzling to know why Wesley wanted the advice, as he was not to marry until 1751, in his 48th year (and he never did have children). Wesley’s mother was apparently held in great affection by her family, in spite of her strict discipline. In a letter dated this day in 1732, she explained the rules relating to mealtimes:

According to your desire, I have collected the principal rules I observed in educating my family. The children were always put into a regular method of living, ….. When turned a year old (and some before), they were taught to fear the rod and to cry softly; … As soon as they were grown pretty strong, they were confined to three meals a day. At dinner their little table and chairs were set by ours, where they could be observed; and they were suffered to eat and drink as much as they would but not to call for anything. If they wanted aught, they used to whisper to the maid which attended them, who came and spoke to me; and as soon as they could handle a knife and fork, they were set to our table. They were never suffered to choose their meat, but always made to eat such things as were provided for the family.

Mornings they had always spoon-meat; sometimes at nights. But whatever they had, they were never permitted to eat, at those meals, of more than one thing; and of that sparingly enough. Drinking or eating between meals was never allowed, unless in case of sickness, which seldom happened. Nor were they suffered to go into the kitchen to ask anything of the servants, when they were at meat: if it was known they did, they were certainly beaten, and the servants severely reprimanded”.

Tough rules for children? I wonder what today’s authorities would say about the good and Godly and much loved Mrs Wesley?

A couple of modern translations of some of her words may be in order. ‘At meat’ means ‘while they were eating’ or ‘during the meal’. ‘Spoon meat; is soft food eaten with a spoon, particularly by infants, the elderly, and the sick. Here is a quite delicious-sounding example from a book of the time, A collection of above three hundred receipts in cookery, physick and surgery …by Mary Kettilby (1724)

To make a very good Barley-Gruel.
Of three Ounces of Pearl-barley make a Quart of Barley-water; shift it once or twice, if it is not white; put to it four Ounces of Currants clean pick’d and wash’d; when they are plumpt, pour the Gruel out to cool a little, and beat up the Yolks of three Eggs and put into it, with half a Pint of White-wine, and half a Pint of new thick Cream, the Peel of a Lemon, and as much Sugar as you like; stir it gently over the Fire ‘till ‘tis as thick as Cream. ‘Tis a pretty wholesome Spoon-meat for Suppers.

Tomorrow’s Story …


Quotation for the Day …

Be careful not to be the first to put your hands in the dish. What you cannot hold in your hands you must put on your plate. Also it is a great breach of etiquette when your fingers are dirty and greasy, to bring them to your mouth in order to lick them, or to clean them on your jacket. It would be more decent to use the tablecloth. Treatise on (1530)

1 comment:

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Gruel has always sounded unappealing, but in fact, the barley dish sounds quite appealing. I suppose if there had been marketers in that day, someone might have come up with a way to revamp the image of gruel.