Thursday, January 24, 2008

An anthropologist does dinner.

January 24

Desmond (John) Morris the English anthropologist and author of The Naked Ape was born on this day in 1928. Is there anyone better qualified than he to comment on our dining behaviour?

“Observe diners arriving at any restaurant and you will see them make a bee-line for the wall seats. No one ever voluntarily selects a centre table in an open space. Open seating positions are only taken when all wall seats are occupied. This dates back to a primeval feeding practice of avoiding sudden attack during the deep concentration involved in consuming food.”

The Hirsute variety of Ape still faces this risk of course, whereas we, the Naked Therefore Fully Clothed variety of Ape have evolved and become civilised. Consequently, the risks associated with dining are far, far, more complicated.

Sitting against the wall in the breakfast nook does not protect from attack within the ranks. The family mealtable, since we evolved enough to be able to have “relationships” and their associated “issues”, can be fraught. Winston Churchill was well aware of this when he said “My wife and I tried to breakfast together, but we had to stop or our marriage would have been wrecked.”

Progress does sometime pay off however. We have dispensed largely with etiquette – that perilous quicksand of ever shifting, uncertain social rules that were broken at considerable cost in previous times. We are left with a few little situations to negotiate, - how to escape before the inevitable dishwasher stacking argument, to risk taking a good bottle of wine and have it disappear into the host's cellar and a poor one offered at dinner, and how to divide up the bill at a restaurant, for example. It was not always quite so simple.

I give you a random list of nineteenth century etiquette rules, for your edification.

When the various members of the party are assembled in the drawing room, the mistress of the house, or the master, supposing him a bachelor or a widower, points out to you the lady you are to lead into the dining room. You, the lady indicated, will have to take precedence according to rank. … The rank of ladies is decided by that of their male relatives … As the lady’s rank gives the precedence, so it decides the order of procession to the dining room.

Coming down stairs, give the lady to the wall; lead her into the room, and seat yourself beside her.

If you pass to dine merely from one room to another, offer your left arm to the lady.

Both ladies and gentlemen remove their gloves when they sit down to dinner.

It is considered vulgar to take fish or soup twice.

Eat peas with a dessert spoon, and curry also.

It is not elegant to gnaw Indian corn. The kernels should be scored with a knife, scraped off into the plate, and then eaten with a fork. Ladies should be particularly careful how they manage so ticklish a dainty, lest the exhibition rub off a little desirable romance.

To shine at the dinner-table requires much conversant practice with polite life. A double duty devolves upon the gentlemen, that of feeding with elegance, and of attending to their fair neighbours.

Today’s recipe gives a tiny nod to anthropologists and archeologists and ancient historians. It is from Modern Ways with an Ancient Food. Addressed to Mothers. It is an advertising booklet for the Hecker brand of ‘farina’, which is the Italian word for flour, but in this case is the same as ‘Cream of Wheat’, which is essentially ‘cornflour’ made from wheat, not corn, which is quite confusing, I must say.

I chose this recipe because it sounds awful in the way that is sometimes quite tasty, in the secret-eating kind of way.

Cream-Farina Cheese Sandwich Filling.
2 tablespoons uncooked Cream-Farina
1 ¼ cups ( ¼ lb) grated cheese
⅛ teaspoon pepper
1 cup strained tomato pulp
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup ( ¼ lb.) cooked ham, ground or chopped
Heat strained tomato pulp in double boiler; add salt and Cream-Farina and cook 7-8 minutes with frequent stirring. Add grated cheese and heat until melted. Remove from fire, add remaining ingredients, and allow to cool before spreading on bread.
Makes 1 ½ cups filling.

Please confess if you’ve ever made this.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Getting a Grip on Sausages.

Quotation for the Day …

I expected (purely on statistical grounds) to die ten years ago … something has gone wrong with my prediction because I am still here, and I have a feeling that part of the reason could be that I have managed to maintain a deep disrespect for all the health police, the faddist gurus and the diet fascists who plague our bookstalls, radio stations and newsagents. Desmond Morris.

1 comment:

Liz + Louka said...

I can't say I've ever made it, but I think it could actually be quite good, if used as a sort of savoury custard instead of spread on bread. The quantity of cornflour isn't really that great. I'll let you know if I ever get round to trying it.