DEAR MISS MANNERS: At a dining-with-clients etiquette lunch, the presenter said either spoon or fork works for dessert. My mother, who thought of herself as a bit of a Miss Manners, used to tell me, “If served in a bowl you use a spoon, if on a plate you use a fork.” So if you get ice cream on a plate, you eat it with a fork.
GENTLE READER: You will be relieved to hear that there is such a thing as an ice cream fork. It has a spoon-like bowl that ends in short, wide tines, useful for breaking off chunks. This configuration, in various sizes, is sometimes characterized as a spork, or, for fans of Edward Lear, a runcible spoon.
You should be even more relieved to hear that etiquette is not a system for disrupting meals to humiliate the hungry. It requires providing the necessary tools for eating whatever is served, placed in the order in which the courses will be eaten.
Thus, a spoon would be provided with a squishy dessert (Miss Manners’ favorite kind), and a fork with a drier dessert, such as cake. And, yes, the gooey sort would likely occupy a bowl and the others a plate. That is the basis for your mother’s instruction.
As for eating ice cream from a plate with only an ordinary fork, a nearly impossible task, your mother must have been cautioning you to make do without embarrassing the idiotic host who served it that way.
But even chocolate and vanilla desserts are not all black and white. That is why the proper dessert service consists of both a fork and a spoon in all but cases where only one or the other would be of use.
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