To Set a Fine TableWe eat from trenchers (plates), usually with a spoon or simply fingers, assisted by a knife. A trencher is generally made of treen (wood) or pewter. The old habit of carving a plate from sturdy or twice-baked bread is no longer common.
Forks have not yet become popular in England, except as a tool for holding large pieces of meat while carving. People who put a fork right into their mouths are either too, too fastidious, too Italianate, or terribly brave.
Napkins (not serviettes) are slung over the shoulder or arm, often secured with a pin — not tucked into the neck or laid on the lap.
Table linens are referred to as napery, and are the responsibility of the chief usher.
A well-set table is laid with a carpet, then a white damask cloth, trenchers, and bread (one loaf for every one or two diners).
In a fine house, a servant or two takes a ewer and basin to each diner so they can rinse their hands before eating. Another follows close behind with a cloth to dry the hands.
When the meal is finished, any broken meats that remain are given to the servants or distributed to the poor at the kitchen door.
24 June 2005 pkm