Manitoba Historical Society
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Manitoba History: Winnipeg Public Schools, Household Science Department

by Rosemary Malaher

Manitoba History, Number 6, Fall 1983

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The following instructions were found in a manuscript book used by my aunt who was attending Grade VIII at La Verendrye School in 1919 and in one used by my mother a year or two earlier at Kelvin Technical High School in Winnipeg. Many of the pages contain records or general rules for cooking and storing such basic staples as milk, eggs or meats of various kinds. My aunt’s book has a handwritten listing in the back indicating which recipe was attempted in the class, a grading of the result as “good” or “fair”, and brief comments explaining the grading. The oatmeal porridge was “good, but slightly lumpy.” Pancakes were “fair” with the comment, “Let some of them burn.” It sounds like a typical day in the junior high home economics class.

The recipes are all practical, basic and ageless. What is particularly fascinating is the directions for table service. These were obviously meant to teach girls who would find employment in domestic service or perhaps for mistresses who might have to train them. The instructions for an invalid tray seem superfluous today, but in the era before penicillin and other wonder drugs, bed rest was often the only cure for many illnesses and it would not be unusual for a household to have one member unable to come down to meals. The attractiveness of the tray might inspire a listless appetite.

One wonders if such helpful rules are taught in today’s schools?

General Rules for Serving

Dishes Placed. Go to the left of the guest and place with the hand.

Dishes Passed. Such as admit of choice, go to the left of the guest and pass with the left hand. Hold the dish at a convenient level with the serving spoon or fork toward the guest.

Rules for Removing

Never begin to remove until all have finished.

Everything belonging to one course should be removed before the next is served.

In removing take large platters first, then plates from each cover, then small things. Remove from only one cover at a time, using a tray or from two (one in each hand) omitting the tray.

Remove from the left side except cups and saucers.

Never pile one plate on another. Use a tray for small things.

Table Service

Waitress. Should be neat, clean, observant, quick, quiet and nice mannered.

Dress. For morning, light, washable material, plainly made and off the floor. For afternoons and formal occasions, black material. Turnover linen collars and cuffs and cap. White apron with bib.

Duties. Care of dining-room, care of silver, china, glass, linen, lamps, pantry, bare floors. Waiting on door, table, telephone. Making of salads, care of invalid’s tray, making of coffee, tea, cocoa, care of bread and butter and announcing dinner.


Prepare table as directed, using dish of fruit for decoration.

Lay covers for six, having places at opposite sides of table directly opposite each other.

To the right of hostess place stand for coffee pot and the cream pitcher, and to her left the sugar bowl, tray bowl, and cups and saucers for each person, with the spoon on the saucer to the right of the cup, handles parallel.

Place on the table a plate of bread and a plate of butter, also salt and pepper.

Place chairs around the table at each cover, with the front edge just touching the cloth.

In serving a course, put large dish on table first, then the silver for serving, then the plates to serve it on, three or four at a time, in front of the host or hostess.


Set table for dinner with six covers as before directed, using flowers for centre piece.

Put the mats at the host’s place for meat and for vegetables.

Set carvers at their respective places outside those belonging to the host’s cover, then serving spoons.

Put bread, butter and dish of pickles on the table.

Fill water glasses two-thirds full just before announcing the meal, and refill as needed by drawing glass to the edge of table and filling from water pitcher or carafe.

As soon as a course is served the waitress removes the soiled plates from the side table to the kitchen, and then sees that everything for the next course is ready, dished to bring to the table.

Waitress stands when not busy at right of hostess, and in a line with her, four or five feet back from the table.

Service plate (one put on at the beginning) is removed after the soup or before the next hot course.

Care of Dining Room

Daily Care. Air the room thoroughly. Sweep and dust before breakfast. Ventilate the room one hour before meals. Regulate heat and light. Arrange room and table. Brush up crumbs after each meal. See that silver and linen drawers are in order.

Weekly Care. Once a week sweep the room thoroughly. Dust and remove all movable furniture, ornaments and hangings. Cover all the furniture with covers provided for that purpose. Wipe down the walls and sweep the room thoroughly. When the dust is settled remove covers, being careful not to shake dust around the room. Wipe all the woodwork.

Polish mirrors and glass and wash the windows, polish the furniture and arrange the room in the usual order.

Sideboard. On it should be placed extra silver, glass, napkins and dishes for serving which do not require warming.

Sidetable. Should be covered to protect it from hot dishes. On this should be placed knives, forks, spoons for serving, and the carvers. Soiled dishes should be placed on side table until ready to remove to kitchen.

Table. Should be covered with a silence cloth to prevent noise and damage to polish. Cover with cloth having one crease lengthwise down the centre. Place centrepiece and decorations and arrange individual covers.

Linen. Table linen should be laundered without starch and ironed while still damp. Table cloths should be folded once only, lengthwise, and rolled loosely on stick or paper. Table napkins should be folded four times to form a square. If table linen is very old and thin a weak solution of starch may be used.

A “cover” consists of the space occupied at the table by each person, and the silver, plate, napkins, glass, etc., pertaining thereto. Allow a space of from 20 to 22 in. In centre of space place the plate 1 in. from the edge of table. To the right of plate place knives, sharp edge in. To the left, the forks, points up. To the right, the spoons, bowls up. Napkins on the left side. Water glass at point of knife. Bread and butter plate at left, at point of fork; spreader, if used, on it. Salt, if individual, above plate; one for two persons is placed between “covers.”

To Prepare an Invalid Tray

Cover a large tray with a perfectly clean, freshly laundered tray cloth and arrange on it one “cover” as directed. Place a small cream pitcher, sugar bowl and teapot at the upper right hand corner, and immediately below it a cup and saucer. If possible, have a small bouquet holder with a single flower in it. Place the dishes to be served in the remaining space, arranged to look as neat as possible.

Page revised: 27 October 2012

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