Friday, 06 October 2017

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 6th October

Having tackled the ‘milk in first’ question, Thomas Blaikie moves on to the great cake- serving dilemma: ‘Upright or on its side?’

Written by Annette Kellow
Dear Thomas,
This will be my second time of writing to you. My question may seem a bit frivolous, but I seriously want to know the correct answer, as everyone I ask comes up with their own personal view, which then leads on to all sorts of cake stories. My question is: is there a correct way to serve a two or three-tier slice of sponge cake? On its side, or standing vertically?
Gary Kibblewhite, Worcester

Dear Gary,

How very nice to hear from you again. And please don’t apologise for frivolity. This kind of thing is intensely preoccupying, on a par with ‘Milk in first?’ or ‘To dunk or not to dunk’. Who knows? Your cake-serving dilemma could turn out to be a matter of life or death – which we never knew about. Rather like the great length-of-drop-of-tablecloth drama, which some readers will recall from a few years back. Then we were privileged to discover, from regular correspondent Ian Williams of Usk, that a luncheon cloth must fall no further than halfway to the floor, whereas a dinner cloth must go the whole way. So even a table is required to be full length for evening. Although, to confuse matters, I did wonder at the time whether one had a cloth on for dinner at all, if one’s table, as a piece of furniture, is of the very best.

So what of cake? Cake, as you will know, is much served in The Lady offices. Have terrible faux pas been committed unknowingly all these years? Perhaps no cake slice should be on its side, or upright, before 11am or after Michaelmas. Is the vertical slice reserved only for weekends, or the country? Well, I’ve scoured the land in search of certainty and I can confidently say that, astonishingly, no random etiquette has managed to attach itself to this matter. It’s quite incredible that the British haven’t succeeded in decreeing that one or other of these cake-slice positions is unbearably common and ghastly, a state of affairs that cannot possibly continue.

The time has come, readers, to take urgent action. In desperation, I turned to the great guru of Usk for guidance. He says, ‘Serving the slice upright is probably theoretically preferable because then the original look of the cake is preserved. But what if it topples? This would be ignominious in the extreme. Side-service avoids this tragedy.’ So lying down is more practical, and he adds, ‘more hedonistic, which after all is what cake is about.’ I agree. The upright slice, all its layers immaculate, ready for inspection by Prue or Mary, is an exhibition piece. It sits there, unapproachable, defiant; if picked up it might squeal. If speared with a fork it will be squashed and lose its charm, as well as its eating credibility. But peacefully on its side, it is ready for consumption.

Please send your questions to thomas. or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

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