The Breakfast Table

This is the forth article in June of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on June 27, 1909, and is an article on the breakfast table. Specifically, Marion Harland talks about how breakfast is not normally anyone’s favourite meal but that needs changing! To help she outlines some rules to brighten up the table.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

The Breakfast Table

IN all my long life I have heard not more than half a dozen persons say that they really enjoyed breakfast. The consensus of popular opinion is to the effect that the meal is a duty, not a pleasure, and that it is grudgingly performed. In France it is never a family function. Each member of the household, if he or she does not “mourn apart,” sulks in the solitude of the bed chamber over the compulsory task of disposing of rolls and coffee. “Only that and nothing more!” At noon, when they have become measurably reconciled to the fact of continued existence in a world that does not pay the expenses of running it, men and women meet about a civilized table for the “dejeuner a la fourchette,” which corresponds to our luncheon.

The English breakfast, never served before 9 or 10 o’clock, except in the hunting season, is a ponderous affair. Tea and coffee, boiled eggs, muffins, toast, and on the sideboard rounds and joints of cold meat, not to mention larded sweetbreads, deviled kidneys and “broiled bones,” await the robust appetite of family and guests. For, be it known, the English are not early risers as a rule. In America we growl at the laziness of the shopkeeper who does not open his doors and raise the window blinds by 7 o’clock on summer mornings, whereas when we cross the ocean we have to submit to the inconvenient custom of a 9 o’clock “opening” in town and country. It strikes the unsophisticated tourist as what Miss Ophelia, in
Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” calls “dreadfully shiftless.” Yet the British are not a shiftless nation.

The American breakfast is distinctively a national institution. It is served at what nine-tenths of the eaters would condemn as an ungodly hour; it is a heavy meal; it is a family meal, and in a shamefully large percentage of homes, the homes of Christian citizens, the least social and the most uncomfortable repast of the day.

Not a Pleasant Picture.

Gentlewomen and gentlemen of high and low degree confess, with never a touch of shame, that they “are not responsible beings until after breakfast.” Peter familias veils his somber face with the morning paper and the mother bids the children “be quiet!” for she has “a curl headache.” Even the babiest of the group is cross under the teasing of her biggest brother, and the others snap at one another as dogs snarl over their trenchers.

Do I exaggerate the evil? Let those whose experience has been more fortunate and whose observations have been made in sunnier weather arise to dispute the picture. In how many so-called happy homes is not “father’s breakfast grouch” a terror and a bywords? To how many tables does the mother bring a brow furrowed by the coming cares of the new day and a critical spirit totally unlike her tender, kindly self as her children know her for the rest of the 24 hours?

The oddest part of the exhibition is that nobody is humiliated by the recollection of his morning mood. The man who “wishes” his gentle wife “would mind her own business” when she ventures a timid query as to the morning news over which he is scowling, and tosses his carfare to his son with a savage, “You children are forever begging for money!” laughs at the recollection in his afternoon chat. “What else is to be expected of a fellow at breakfast? He is hardly an accountable creature.”

Much-Needed Grace.

We learn at our mother’s knees to pray, “Give us day by day our daily bread,” and we do well to carry the prayer in our hearts all our life long. Who of us asks in true humility and earnestness, “Give us this day our breakfast grace?”

I believe I have said that before somewhere, but let it stand! Heaven (and our families) know how sorely the petition is needed.

Yet reason and common sense would unite in declaring that the breakfast mood should be blithe and hopeful. Mind, nerves and muscle have been rested and refreshed by sleep. The freshness of the young day; the bath and toilet that have clad the body in fresh raiment; the anticipation of renewed opportunities for usefulness and of enjoyment opening to the imagination with the rising of the sun upon a rejuvenated earth, should combine to exalt the spirit and tone up the system.

I made up my mind fifty years and more ago that the influences of the early morning are distinctly depressing to the average human being. At the same time I made up my mind as strenuously that to yield to these is a sin and a disgrace to decent Christians. As a result the breakfast hour is cheerful in one household, at least in outward seeming. It is reckoned a personal duty that may not, be shirked to stimulate it when it does not come of itself. In time the effort brings the rich reward of the real grace. The “breakfast grace” comes for the asking.

Don’t grumble at the length of the sermon! If you knew how much more bubbles up to my lips and pleads for expression you would be grateful for my forbearance.

Now for the application! Make the breakfast table attractive to every sense. Let the silver be bright, the glass clear, the breakfast cloth spotless and the napkins clean. If you have flowers for but one meal per day, let them brighten the breakfast table about which the family is gathered after the night of darkness and helplessness. Make the whole array of equipage and eaters a visible expression of gratitude for the “blessings of the light.” I like the way the old hymnal puts that! One good man whose life was full of the best things the Father bestows upon His children—love, joy and peace—used always. In asking a blessing upon the first meal of the day, to thank God for “the rest of the night and the light and happiness of the new day which Thou hast made for us.” It was an inspiring thought, that of a new creation, and our very own.

A Few Set Rules.

I have talked once and again with the members of the Exchange of the hygienic value of the lighter breakfast now generally approved by our wisest dietitians above the heavy meal we copied from our English progenitors. In the weekly bills-of-family-fare that go with these very familiar chats with our housemothers I sketch the plan of the meal. In my own home the same line is pursued throughout the year. Fruit; a cereal, hot or cold, and varied from day to day, but always served with cream; eggs or fish, or a light meat, usually broiled bacon; bread and butter; invariably freshly made toast, brought in crisp and hot from the kitchen during the meal; tea, coffee and, for the younger eaters, digestible cocoa.

A dish of apples is on the table as long as apples are to be had, and most of us conclude the meal with one, or a section if the apple be large. If affords a pretext for lingering over the table when the rest of the breakfast has been cleared away. The morning paper is a regular visitor, but he who reads it during the meal must share the news with the family. May I say, furthermore, that in the other households that are the branches of this vine the same rules prevail, to the comfort of all concerned?

In contrast, I may hint at homes, otherwise worthy of the name, where not a word is spoken during the progress of breakfast, except what is connected with the business of the hour or half hour. There is no lingering over that gloomy altar of sacrifice to physical needs.

It is a cogent argument in support of the light breakfast—that excludes potatoes, steak, pork and chops, and for most of the week hot breads—that the American goes forth to his daily toil at an hour when the foreigner has not left his pillow. To set out upon the arduous round directly after swallowing a solid meal is highly prejudicial to health. Henry Ward Beecher changed the hour of the second service in his church from afternoon to evening because everybody has an early dinner on Sunday. And he “would not preach to roast beef and plum pudding.” The brain worker appreciates the force of the objection. The average American is a brain worker, let his calling be what it may.

Whatever you eat at the meal that breaks your fast after hours or rest for the hard-worked stomach, eat it slowly. I verily believe that the alarming increase in the number of deaths by apoplexy and the more marked suburban popular are largely the direct consequence of the “bolt-and-jump” habit inseparable from the commuter’s daily practice. Better eat ten mouthfuls slowly, reducing each to the digestible paste the alimentary organs demand, than choke or stoke down a hundred with nerves and muscles strained and ears alert for “the train.”

Forego that last delicious doze and eat your breakfast deliberately. It is sound policy in the long run, which will be the longer for your obedience to this law.

Marion Harland

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How to Entertain at a Breakfast

This is the third article in April of the School for Housewives 1907 series published on April 21, 1907, and is a discussion on how to entertain at a breakfast.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of The Washington Times.

How to Entertain at a Breakfast

“THERE would seem to be no leisure-class in this country of yours,” said an Englishman to his American host.

“What do you mean by a leisure-class?” asked the other.

“Oh, men who have no profession—no stated—ah—ah—employment. Who may dispose of their time as they like—ah—with no beastly sense of duty unperformed—don’t you know?”

“Oh, yes! we have plenty of that kind with us,” with an enlightened look. “But we call them loafers over here!”

For the lack of any other class of men who have time to take their pleasure early in the working day, the breakfast party is a rare function with us except on holidays, and in the summer vacation. That which I shall describe was given on Decoration Day by the happy possessors of a country house within an hour’s journey by rail from a great city.

As a matter of course, each of the two dozen guests who alighted at the station at 11 o’clock A. M. had had a light breakfast before leaving town. Equally as a matter of course, the last days of May were the hottest of a hot season. A thundershower had missed hopes of better things the previous afternoon, but, after the manner of May storms, had done its work in a half-hearted style. The air teemed with moisture on Decoration Day, and the moisture was steam.

“Breakfast in the garden, I suppose?” murmured an elderly bachelor on the drive from station to house. “The correct thing, I suppose. When I was a boy, my sister used to sing a song that expressed my sentiments concerning al fresco feastings. It was called ‘Tea in the Arbor.’ and told of

“Roses and posies to scent up your noses,
Lilies and billies, and daffydowndillies,”

and how spiders fell into a fellow’s cup and caterpillars crawled down his neck, and all that. This eating under the trees, and sprawling on the grass, with a teacup in one hand and a sandwich in the other, is a relic of savage feasts—of the stone age and cliff dwellers.” “Didn’t you enjoy picnics when you were yo—a boy?” queried a girl, her change of intention in framing the reply so evident that everybody smiled.

“Never did!” protested the bachelor, stoutly. “Give me civilized food eaten from solid mahogany, with knives and forks, and not with fingers and gnawed as the noble red man takes his victuals. It is a notable fact in this connection that your rural citizen never eats his meals in this barbaric fashion except when he has visitors from town. He knows better than to swelter in the hot outer air, tormented by flies and mosquitoes, when he could be comfortable in a shaded room with screens in every door and window. Of all modern humbugs, the playing at ruralizing is the most absurd. For we all know it isn’t rural at all!”

Had they been less oppressive an argument might have ensued. As it was, silence, felt by more than one to be depressing, lasted until the carriages discharged their respective loads at the foot of the steps leading up to the vine-shaded veranda.

The grumbler may have had the grace to feel ashamed of his unmannerly tirade when the company assembled in the great central hall through the wide folding doors of which the interior of the dining-room was visible. He made no sign of penitence unless that his admiration of the aforesaid interior was more pronounced than that of some of his fellow-guests.

A goodly sight was that framed in the arched doorway. Shadows that were faintly green and softly gray, and all cool, filled the long room. The blinds were bowed, and the light that found its way through the spaces left at the bottom and top of each window, was tempered before it entered, by vines and trees. The wistaria, enshrouding the house with draperies of pale mauve that looked like wreaths of fleeciest chiffon, lent perfume to the whole atmosphere.

With rarely fine taste, the hostess had banished other flower odors. No dying agonies of blossoms suffocated by the noonday heat and human breaths, would taint our food. The exquisite suspicion of wistaria-scent was sufficient unto us. The same just taste had ordered that the trailing vines relieving the snow of the table-covers should have their stems in water. The smell of withered smilax and ferns is especially disagreeable as the meal progresses and appetite is jaded.

The tables were round and of varying sizes. Some were laid for four, some for six, none for an odd number of eaters.

There were six waitresses, dressed in white from crown to toe—all attentive, and all so quiet that their gliding to and fro was like the passing of shadows through the gray-green spaces separating the groups of revelers.

Glasses, filmy with iced dews, and with a celestial compound of minced fruits, prepared parched palates for coming dainties. We named it “Decoration Day Ambrosia” on the spot, and by this name it is still known among those who tasted it then for the first time. Jellied chicken bouillon followed, accompanied by Virginia wafers, that melted in the mouth.

By now, appetite awoke to the appreciation that it craved something substantial at high noon after a thirty-mile trip on the railway, even on the hottest day of the (alleged) spring. Salmon timbales, masked by bechemel sauce, “did not,” as one connoisseur murmured to another, “mar the unities of the scheme.” Finger rolls went around with them. Cold tongue, embedded in tomato aspic, was the next course.

Then glasses of Roman punch revived the digestion for the more serious business of broiled spring chicken and the attendant asparagus a la viniagrette, laid within crisp lettuce-hearts. Cassava biscuits and cream cheese—homemade and delicious—intervened before strawberries, that had been gathered that morning — each a very paragon of its species in size, color and spicy lusciousness—were set before us. They were eaten in the English fashion—one we would well to adopt as a habit. Caps and stems had not been removed, and, holding the stems as handles, we dipped the beauties into fine sugar and made two bites of each. For beverages, we had iced coffee, tea a la Russe.

When we arose from table, we were at peace with digestions and the rest of the world and—stranger still! no hotter than when we sat down. I have eaten other summer breakfasts at which nothing hot was served. She was a wiser caterer who judged that one or two freshly cooked dishes appeal to the taste of really hungry people. She recollected, too, that some stomachs do not assimilate chilled food as readily as they accept warm; also that there is still with us a fair percentage of old-fashioned folk who do not affect “made dishes,” and account the serving and the eating of them as unpatriotic truckling to foreign tricks and manners.

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Preparing the First Course for the Easter Breakfast

This is the fourth article in March of the School for Housewives 1904 series published on Mar 27, 1904, and is an article on Easter breakfast.

School for Housewives – Preparing the First Course for the Easter Breakfast

By applying a little ingenuity to the customary egg course of the Easter morning breakfast it is possible to convert plain boiled humpty-dumpties into subjects of delight and merriment.

The day before the feast lay in as many doll hats as there are to be eggs.

Have some of the hats masculine and some feminine in character.

Before dropping the eggs in the water mark with indelible ink, eyes, nose, mouth and even a little fringe of hair upon the surface of each.

Be sure that the ink dries thoroughly before submitting it to the water.

Just before serving place each egg in an egg cup and top it off with one of the hats.

Of course, additional touches in the way of issue paper skirts and the like are possible if there is time.

But these are not necessary the success of the novelty, which is exceedingly fetching without further elaboration.

Amusing characterization can be managed, if there is a little spare time to be devoted to it, before breakfast time comes.

Brownie eggs are exceedingly picturesque and not hard to do. It is only necessary in this case to have pointed case of brown tissue paper in the place of hats, and to give the features a quaint Brownie twist. The Roosevelt Brownie – an amusing little cow puncher with very prominent teeth, about the most recent rival among these fairy folk – is one that can be imitated with great success upon eggs.

Another amusing figure is that of the clown, to which the white surface of the egg lends itself very readily. A pointed cap of white paper is about the only dress exquisite for a very laughable pierrot.

Monks and nuns with veils or cowls of brown or black are easily done and very distinctive.

Marion Harland

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The Advantage That Is to Be Gained by Arising Fifteen Minutes Earlier in the Morning

This is the first article in March of the School for Housewives 1902 series published on Mar 2, 1902, and is a short article on the benefits of getting up earlier in the morning.

School for Housewives – The Advantage That Is to Be Gained by Arising Fifteen Minutes Earlier in the Morning

Up in the morning’s early light.
Up in the morning early!

This was the strain of the old-fashioned ditty-maker. There are still writers of “goody” books and works on hygiene who extol the morning mood. According to them, the whole human machine is then at its best. The head is clear, the stomach is vigorous, the spirits are buoyant, life is a joy.

In reality – the reality of the everyday life of respectable people who have not ??? long as the wine or anything else ever night – the hard pull of the day is at the beginning.

A young man of education and breeding who lives in bachelor chambers with three other “good fellows” confesses that, while the 7 o’clock dinner hour is always full of cheer and good-will, the four friends seldom exchange a syllable at the breakfast table beyond a brief salutation at entering the room, and a curt “good-day” in separating to their various places of business.

“Thanks to this sensible silence, we have lived together three years without quarrelling.” He wound up the story by saying “Every man is a brute until he has had his morning coffee.”

A celebrated Judge left upon record the saying that “No man should be hanged for a murder committed before breakfast.”

A brilliant woman summed up the popular judgment on the subject, in an after luncheon speech before other literary women, in the assertion that “the human machine needs to be wound up and lubricated and regulated by bath and breakfast before it is fit to work with other machines, or, indeed, to go at all. Breakfast, partaken of in the company of one’s nearest and dearest, is a blunder of modern civilization. It is an ordeal over which each should mourn apart.”

Much of this is talk, and some of it is temper. It is not easy for one to get full command of oneself before the relaxed nerves are braced by tea or coffee and the long empty stomach is brought up to concert pitch by food. If we have slept too heavily we are stupid; if too little, irritable.

Nor is it easy to return a smooth answer to a capricious customer, or to smile attentively upon a social bore, or to refrain from snubbing the lounger in your office or drawing room who thinks your time no more valuable than his own, r to return blessing for railing in a business alteration.

We do daily each, if not all, of these things, because it is polite and politic and Christian to do them. Where principle or interest is involved we tread personal prejudice under foot. The man who gulps down his coffee in grim silence and says never a word between his downsitting and his uprising to and from the penitential feast, nods jovially to his neighbors in the street car, throws a cheerful “Hello!” to the boy who sells him his morning paper, and lifts his hat with a bright smile to the woman he meets at the corner. He would act in like manner if these encounters took place before, instead of after, his breakfast. It would be a part of the decent and orderly behavior befitting every gentleman.

I admit that the American’s first meal of the crude day, with the accompaniment of the rush for car, or boat, or train, that turns out – or in – dyspeptics by the hundred thousand yearly, is not conducive to domestic happiness or the preservation of table etiquette. The householder, devouring porridge, two cups of scalding coffee, rolls, steak ad fried potatoes, at discretion, with one eye on the clock and both feet braced to jump for the station he knows is imminent, is in the first or fortieth stage of what a witty essayist diagnoses as “Americanitis.” His children’s railroad speed of deglutition and their scurry for school are along the same lines of discomfort and disease.

Upon the mother’s hands and head rests the responsibility of “Getting them off for the day,” a battle renewed with each morning, until she “fairly loathes the name and thought of breakfast.”

The remedy for the domestic disgrace – for it is nothing if not that – is simple that I have little hope it will be respected, much less accepted.

It is “Get up fifteen minutes earlier in the morning.”

If you rise usually at 7, have the hot water and cleaned boots brought to the chamber door at a quarter before 7, and get up when you are called. A brisk bath and a smart rubbing with a crash towel, preceded by fifty gymnastic strokes, such as arm-swinging and general flexing of the muscles, twenty-five deep breaths that pump the morning air down to the bottomest well of your lungs and clear the respiratory passages of effete matter lodged there during the night, will set your body in good working order.

Force yourself to speak pleasantly if you cannot at once bring your spirits up to the right level. Study to be a man, or a woman, although breakfastless. To be thrown in the first round of the day by the sluggish flesh and the devil of ill-humor, before the world has a chance to grapple with you, is cowardly and sinful.

It is my persuasion that seven-tenths of the twaddle over the horrors of the family breakfast are affectation and indolence. Breakfasting in bed is an imported fashion, and, to my notion, is not a clean practice. The tray brought to an unaired room, a tumbled bed and an unwashed body looks well in French engravings, but is a solecism in an age of hygienic principles, much ventilation and matutional bath. The inability to be in charity with one’s fellow mortals, to smile genially and to speak gently before the world is well started upon its diurnal swing and the complainant’s physical system is toned and tuned and oiled by eating is degrading in itself. The confession of it is puerile.

Marion Harland

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